‘I came back to Jesus on my first day in jail’

Convicted of bribery, disgraced Deputy Mayor Adam McCormick shares why prison was so good for him

Adam McCormick couldn’t sleep. He was fuming. The then Deputy Mayor of Rockdale City Council, Sydney, had been accused of accepting bribes from developers and, in 2002, was daily being humiliated at a hearing of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption. His denials of wrongdoing were becoming more and more far-fetched.

“It was two in the morning; I was up and I was angry with God. I was saying ‘What have you done to me? Look at what you’ve done! OK, I’ve done wrong, but why are you humiliating me?’ I was fuming with God, so I pick up my Bible and rip it open and it goes to Psalm 35. I start reading it and then I’m going ‘oh my goodness’ and I burst into tears.”

In this psalm, written by Old Testament king David, the writer appeals to God to avenge him against his enemies. They are persecuting David, falsely accusing him and gloating over his ruin.

“I would bring out my Bible in meetings when people were boring me.” – Adam McCormick

McCormick, now a factory chaplain in Sydney’s south, is finally able to reveal how, as a young, ambitious Labor councillor, his pride and arrogance turned him into “an animal” ensnared in the ALP machine.

Elected to Rockdale Council, on the border of Botany Bay, at the age of 29, McCormick was a Bible-carrying idealist who fought against brothels, corruption and high-rise development. But it wasn’t long before his political ambition led him to obey orders from his political backers to push through big developments.

“I remember one of the biggest buildings now down in Wolli Creek and I opposed it the whole way through and then everyone got a shock when suddenly I came to council one night and voted for it,” he tells Eternity.

“I do regret it because you sold out.” – Adam McCormick

“A lot of the independents liked me and that’s how I got the Deputy Mayor position because they knew I was anti-high rise, so they were all a bit shocked.”

McCormick says he was told by head office that he needed to change his vote because the developers were “making a huge donation to the party.”

“I do regret it because you sold out; you had these values but you are part of that bigger machine and you’re quite ambitious.”

Despite being “corrupted by the machine”, to the extent of “rorting books and rorting signatures” to get people elected, he still thought of himself as a great guy because he carried a Bible and “it’s for the greater good.”

“‘Look who I work for – I’m untouchable.’ And that’s honestly what I thought.” – Adam McCormick

Dreaming of one day becoming a State minister, McCormick started to put God second and political ambition first. He knew he was doing wrong but would say: “do as I say, not as I do.”

“The arrogance had become that bad I would pull out my Bible in meetings – this is so not glorifying God – I would bring out my Bible in meetings when people were boring me and just read it to show them that ‘I couldn’t care less what you’re saying.’ I thought the other day, ‘That was so disgraceful, Adam – how are you glorifying God by showing these people that they were worthless? You were so arrogant and out of touch.'”

When McCormick agreed to support developments in King Edward and Frederick streets in Rockdale, in exchange for a $70,000 donation to the ALP, he knew it was risky. He also knew that bringing money into the party was the best way to gain kudos.

“Adam, they’re not going to look after you, mate.” – McCormick’s ICAC barrister

At the time, he was looking at running for a State seat, but faced opposition from within his own council. But he ignored warnings that his opponents were plotting his downfall.

“I was warned, I was warned a few times – even one of the General Managers said, ‘They’re coming after you, Adam;’ and even then I was, like, ‘Look at my position, look what I am, look who I work for – I’m untouchable.’ And that’s honestly what I thought, so it was really a lot of pride.”

After ICAC received reports of corruption at Rockdale, McCormick spent seven days in the witness box, denying all allegations and maintaining his innocence because he believed his backers in the party would look after him. He admits now that he did “answer indiscriminately” to the Commission, but only to protect his mates.

“I always kept to the same story … and I had nine barristers at one stage smashing me to pieces. In the end, you became a bit of a character because you were making crazy comments because they were getting so frustrated at trying to make you slip up,” he says.

“You can take it from your enemies when they betray you but when your best mates do it you feel sick.” – Adam McCormick

“In the end, my barrister adjourned one day and he said to the Commissioner, ‘You know, you’re never going to break him – this’ll go on for months if you keep going.’ And then he said to me, ‘My only concern is, Adam, I know you’re protecting people.’ And, yes, I was – there were definitely MPs involved, but I thought they would look after me.

“My barrister, who was a former detective, said ‘Mate, they’re not going to look after you, they’re not your mates.’ And I said, ‘You don’t know how to see it – we’re a machine, we work together like an army.’ He goes, ‘Adam, they’re not going to look after you, mate.’ And then he was right – they didn’t in the end.”

McCormick felt crushed when his most trusted friends dropped him like a hot potato: “You can take it from your enemies when they betray you but when your best mates do it you feel sick.”

In 2005, McCormick was tried and convicted in the NSW District Court on two counts of corruptly agreeing to receive a benefit and seven counts of lying to ICAC. He was sentenced to a maximum of five years in jail and served three-and-a-half years.

“I always said if they had charged me with third-party corruption I would have pleaded guilty straightaway because there was money involved. It wasn’t coming to me personally; it was going to the Labor Party.”

“My whole life I’ve been bitter because I always felt God ripped me off.” – Adam McCormick

It was during his first day in jail that McCormick experienced the beginnings of a revival.

“I never felt so close to Jesus in my life than at that moment when you realise that his friends betrayed him –  it was incredible what he went through … And that’s when I learnt for the first time in my life what grace meant.”

From thinking he was a great guy because he was religious and idealistic, McCormick had come to realise that, like the early Christian leader Paul, “I’m the biggest sinner of everyone.” And yet God still loved him.

“I didn’t understand God’s love. I was a religious guy and I didn’t understand that God actually really loved me … and that’s what prison taught me, that he loves me unconditionally,” he says.

“So it is a bit of a prodigal son journey because you did leave God and you did live for the riches. You left because you wanted fame, you wanted money, and I did have that – I had status, I had the fame, had the money, I had everything; and it wasn’t until you lost everything that you come running back to your father and go, ‘It’s you who I need; I don’t need all the rest.'”

McCormick can now see that he had carried a grudge against God since losing his father when he was 14.

“My whole life I’ve been bitter because I always felt God ripped me off taking him. He was like my coach, my mentor, my everything. I was always bitter and angry with the world for what had happened to me,” he says.

“The injustice was huge that these guys got immunity.” – Adam McCormick

“I love God with all my heart but he changed the course of my life. ‘Why did you take my father? Oh, my goodness. He was my everything, my mentor. I could have achieved anything and you took him.'”

Ironically, the prison culture was a stark contrast to the betrayal of trust he experienced on the outside, and it was among the most hardened criminals that he found protection and trust.

“It was probably three of the best years of my life – I know that’s crazy,” he says. “In prison, I was really protected by all the big guys, hit men and murderers … Benny Puta, who killed three people, was extremely protective of me. Australia’s most wanted, Hakan Ayik, was my cellmate and became one of my closest mates. He was a gentleman. And the Lebanese swarmed on me and protected me.

“The one who was also most protective of me was Benny Puta, whose mate was Roger Rogerson; his character also [featured] in the Underbelly series Golden Mile. He has killed three people … but I got him to do Kairos [prison ministry] and come to church, so the seed was planted, and I’ve met and prayed with him since coming out.”

“In the end it is God who will judge.” – Adam McCormick

Before McCormick went to jail, he was so bitter and angry that he wanted to die. “I actually put on a lot of weight and was hoping I would die. I don’t believe in suicide but I was hoping I’d have a heart attack and die. I was so depressed.

“My thing with God was ‘I don’t care if I die – you are the one that got me killed.’ That was my attitude. You have got me killed. You knew what I was doing, you let these corrupt guys get immunity. So I was really angry. The injustice was huge, that these guys got immunity and they were filth. I opposed brothels, I was against this, against that, and these guys were outside gloating.”

“Because you’ve been smashed to pieces in the media – the corrupt criminal – all my self-confidence and self-esteem comes through God.” – Adam McCormick

McCormick’s behaviour was so aggressive to other prisoners that some of the hardest men in the prison were concerned he would hurt someone and end up serving another five years. And one of his Christian jail mates told him his behaviour as a Christian did not look good.

“In prison, you meet the roughest and toughest guys and they told me ‘You’re absolutely out of control.’ I do believe that was directly from God, putting all these incredible tough men in my way and speaking to me and going, ‘It’s time to change.'”

So over a couple of years of anger management study and prayer, McCormick did change and, through kindness, brought some prisoners back to God. As chairman of Kairos, he developed a flourishing prison ministry through Bible studies and church services.

Sadly, McCormick became so institutionalised that after his release from jail, he became deeply depressed. He was searching for love and acceptance and found it at Eastcoast Pentecostal Church in Sydney’s south.

“I’d never been in such a loving, embracing church and I just think ‘God, you’ve done it again’ … thank God that he brought me to that church because I needed that love and they showed me brotherly love like in prison … These guys didn’t judge, they accepted me and they loved me. And again I was able to flourish.”

His challenge today is to let go of his former obsession with getting revenge on the people who let him down.

“Paul was in prison, Moses was a murderer, David was an adulterer.” – Adam McCormick

“This is why Psalm 35 has been so important to me because it tells me that it’s God that’s going to seek revenge on your behalf and you need to let it go, so I’ve learnt to let it go, being revengeful,” he says.

“In the end it is God who will judge; it is Jesus who comes with the sword in his mouth to judge and I don’t need to worry about that.”

McCormick is now working in factory chaplaincy and teaching English through the Ministry Training Strategy at St Cuthbert’s Anglican Church, South Carlton. He is also studying for a bachelor of theology at Sydney Missionary and Bible College.

“The son of God trusts me to work for him – what an incredible God we have!”- Adam McCormick

“The other thing God has done for me is I don’t rely on my self-esteem. Because you’ve been smashed to pieces in the media – the corrupt criminal – all my self-confidence and self-esteem comes through God. You can say what you want about me because I’m with Jesus.

“The other thing I love – the other thing I got strength from when I got out of prison – is that Paul was in prison, Moses was a murderer, David was an adulterer. That gave me confidence in God’s grace that he’s going to use me like he did the others.

“Despite the world condemning me, even some Christians, and myself, the one who loves me the most and gave his life for me, Jesus Christ, has given me the opportunity to serve him in ministry, and that truly blows me away. The son of God trusts me to work for him – what an incredible God we have!”