SA MP stole from not-for-profits, court told

South Australian MP Troy Bell abused his position as an Education Department employee to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars meant to help vulnerable high school students and used it to fund property investments and pay debts, a court has been told.

The independent member for Mount Gambier is facing trial in the SA District Court after pleading not guilty to 20 counts of theft and six counts of dishonestly dealing with documents, allegedly committed between 2009 and 2013.

In her opening address on Tuesday, prosecutor Jemma Litster alleged that Mr Bell, 50, stole funds intended to support high school students at the Independent Learning Centre in Mount Gambier, an annexe of the Millicent High School to assist disengaged students who had returned to study.

She said Mr Bell had persuaded Millicent High School principal John Shelton that the ILC programs could be structured and funded in a way that was quicker and more responsive than preferred department models

"Mr Bell was charismatic, persuasive, " Ms Litster told the jury.

"People trusted him and had no cause or interest to scrutinise the use of resources. The ILC was doing well, it was successful. There was little reason to think that funds were being siphoned or that it was being starved of resources."

As the member for Mount Gambier, Mr Bell was first elected as a Liberal in 2014, but quit the party in August 2017.

He was returned to parliament at the 2018 SA election after contesting the poll as an independent.

"He resigned from the Department (of Education) to embark upon a career in politics as an MP," Ms Litster said.

She said the funds were deposited or transferred into accounts Mr Bell had personally set up in the name of the ILC. He had received those funds on behalf of two not-for-profits, the South-East Education and Training Association and the Limestone Coast Education and Training Association.

"He didn't use them in the manner he was obliged but instead dishonestly dealt with those monies by moving them into personal accounts," Ms Litster said.

Mr Bell may have been motivated to steal because he was becoming increasingly financially ambitious, she said.

"He had taken on significant debt in the form of bank loans to finance property development at various addresses in Mount Gambier, as well as the purchase and refurbishment of the Bell family home.

"You'll hear evidence that Mr Bell was moving funds consistently to settle debts."

Mr Bell was well-liked, Ms Litster said.

"He was a man who was trusted in his professional and social circles in Mt Gambier. He abused that trust," she said.

"The view people held of him was one of the factors which meant his fraud went unnoticed for some time."

The jury was given flow charts to help explain the complex web of bank accounts and transfers between them that underpin the prosecution case.

It is alleged Mr Bell presented invoices to Millicent High School which contained false representations that the ILC needed funds.

At the time the alleged thefts began in 2009, Mr Bell had taken almost complete control of the ILC's finances, the court was told.

"Critically, this mean that no one else was equipped with adequate knowledge so as to notice what was happening with the money," Ms Litster said.

She said another feature that permitted the fraud to continue unnoticed was the relaxed attitude of others in the region to Education Department's policies, such as conflicts of interest and funding and procurement guidelines.

The trial would be a "story that is told by how money is moved through bank accounts".

Ms Litster's opening address continues on Wednesday.

The trial, before Judge Rauf Soulio, is scheduled to run for 16 weeks.