Crackdown on Auckland nursing home fraudster fights to save jobs

A convicted fraudster who stole up to $1.4million from an Auckland nursing home is fighting to keep his name secret so he can keep his land development job dealing with financiers over projects worth $600 million.

The Herald can also reveal that after stealing the money, the man became a successful professional in another field for one of the country’s most prominent companies.

He lost his license in 2016 due to concerns over his dishonesty when a watchdog deemed him unfit to practise, only to be reinstated in the profession following a landmark appeal backed by his employer at the time.

The man and his company at the time fought unsuccessfully to keep their names secret, arguing that publishing their identities would unduly damage the reputation of the company’s national brand.

As the Herald prepared a story naming the man and the company, he abruptly left the profession and was subsequently charged with 49 counts of fraud. His name has since been removed to protect his rights to a fair trial.

He was found guilty this month of 45 counts following a two-week trial in the Auckland High Court.

Evidence revealed that he had siphoned money nursing home accounts in breach for seven years, using the money for personal expenses such as school fees, Sky TV subscriptions and gym memberships, and to pay contractors working on he and his wife’s dream home.

He will be sentenced in October.

And despite the potential that he could be imprisoned, the man is trying to keep his name removed in hopes that he will receive a community sentence that would allow him to keep his current job.

The land development company where he now works admits they were aware of the man’s background and that he could face criminal charges if it gave him a ‘second chance’ – employing him in a role as central management dealing with financiers and other key relationships on several multi-million dollar projects.

In a suppression hearing this month, the company’s lawyer argued there was no public interest in naming the man and that his identity should be kept secret in case the company suffers a negative publicity by being unfairly linked to his fraud convictions.

The company also requested the permanent deletion of its name.

“The world of real estate development is one where reputations are precious and public interest is high,” the attorney said.

“There is an increased risk that very unfavorable links will be established between [the man’s] offensive and my client.

“There is serious economic activity at play here.”

Judge Timothy Brewer presided over the fraud case this month in Auckland High Court. Photo/NZME

In a reserved ruling issued this week, Judge Timothy Brewer said the company “took the risk” when it hired the man.

He denied the man’s request for removal, saying the required threshold of extreme hardship had not been met.

The man had set up an accounting system to “systematically defraud” the care home and committed serious dishonesty over a period of years.

People who had future affairs with the man “shouldn’t have withheld that criminal history from them”, Judge Brewer said.

“It often happens that defendants convicted of serious criminal offenses lose
their livelihood or employment as a result.

“Loss of livelihood or employment is a common consequence associated with such
incriminated.”

The company’s lawyer said he was likely to appeal, meaning the man and his current employer still cannot be named.

“It’s unfathomable, it’s incomprehensible”

The Herald has been following the man’s case for more than five years. And despite two civil court findings that the man ’embezzled’ nursing home funds and a jury finding him guilty of serious criminal charges, his name remains suppressed.

While awaiting trial, he continued to do business and hold corporate directorships.

The director of the defrauded rest home told the Herald he was stunned authorities allowed the man to continue in his previous professional role while a police investigation was ongoing.

“It’s unfathomable, it’s incomprehensible and it’s indefensible. You really can’t throw a defense to say it’s justified. The people of New Zealand have been very disappointed.”

The manager said his company spent more than $1 million to piece together its financial records and prosecute the man for the money he stole.

He questioned why the former employer and land development company supported the man despite previous court findings and criminal charges.

“This guy was allowed to continue…I just think it’s ridiculous.”

The man was found to have illegally misappropriated large amounts of money from the care home between 2005 and 2012, much of it in the form of cashed cheques, third-party payments or overpayments of salary.

He eventually repaid the money following a civil court order after he was forced to sell his lifestyle property.

He started working in his previous professional role in 2013, but a watchdog refused to renew his license in 2016 after learning of his “dishonest conduct”.

The man appealed the decision in 2017, arguing there was no “proven dishonesty”.

His lawyer also claimed the alleged offense happened before the man entered the profession and he has enjoyed a “spotless” disciplinary record ever since.

The appeal body agreed and reinstated the man’s professional license.

She noted that an earlier civil court decision raised serious concerns about the man’s fitness to practice and involved a large sum of money.

It was also concerning that the man had “constantly” denied any wrongdoing, indicating a “lack of insight”.

However, the employer at the time had offered ongoing support and commitment to monitor his activity, including random audits and access to his electronic files and deleted emails.

While the public ‘may question’ his reinstatement, the company’s proposed oversight reassured the appeals body that consumer protection and trust in the industry ‘will not be compromised’ .

The man later surrendered his license and was later charged with fraud.

In a previous interview with the Herald, he denied any wrongdoing.

“We didn’t. It was an interpretation of a very bad management structure that the court referred to and the judge concluded without guilt that there was money owed.”

He denied that public safety had been compromised and said there had been no complaints about his professional work.

“I don’t deal in money…so I don’t think anyone was put in danger.”

After the man lost the deletion in 2017, his attorney said another opportunity had “unexpectedly presented itself” and his client was leaving the profession for the “foreseeable future”.

His firm at the time said the man’s professional conduct had been carefully monitored and he had carried out his commitments to a “high professional standard”. But the man was no longer employed “and will not return to the company”.

The watchdog said it was considering appealing the court’s decision to reinstate the man’s license. He feared that he could not always prevent people “he does not deem worthy” from entering the profession.

About Jessica J. Bass

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