Hamish Fletcher

Business reporter for the NZ Herald

Faked invoice schemer has sentence halved

Sonia Klair used forged documents made in India in an attempt to convince businesses they had previously signed on for NZ Look's services. Photo / Thinkstock
Sonia Klair used forged documents made in India in an attempt to convince businesses they had previously signed on for NZ Look's services. Photo / Thinkstock

A High Court judge has halved the sentence of a woman who fleeced small businesses in a "sophisticated" fake invoicing scheme that used forged documents made in India.

Sonia Klair, who is now 35 and living in Australia, will now have to return to this country to serve a sentence of 5 months' home detention.

Klair in 2008 set up NZ Look, an internet-based directory where consumers could look up products and services.

During that year, the company began sending out documents that falsely told the recipient that they already had listings with NZ Look and invited them to sign on for another term.

The customers contacted were from a database that originally belonged to NBO, a similar business previously run by Klair and her then-husband.

From early 2010, Klair used forged documents made in India in an attempt to convince businesses they had previously signed on for NZ Look's services.

These documents copied over customers' signatures from NBO documents to NZ Look documents.

Klair would then send an invoice requesting payment for the listing to these "clients".
Many of those targeted were small businesses.

NZ Look, according to the summary of facts, had a turnover of more than $700,000 during its operation and ceased trading in 2010 after a potential legal action from Yellow Pages.

The Commerce Commission - which had previously received complaints about NBO - laid a raft of charges against Klair.

Judge Chris Field, when sentencing Klair last September in the Auckland District Court, called her offending a "sophisticated scheme" that involved pre-mediation and caused losses to victims of $1747. Judge Field sentenced Klair to 10 months' home detention.

Klair served six weeks of that and was then released on bail pending her appeal to the High Court.

Her lawyer Ron Mansfield argued in that appeal last month that his client's sentence was manifestly excessive. While involving planning, Mansfield said the scheme was only "moderately sophisticated".

Mansfield said the starting point from which the original sentencing judge began was outside the available range for the offending.

Mansfield submitted the appropriate end sentence should have been community detention of no more than six months and reparation.

The Commerce Commission's lawyer, Alysha McClintock, opposed the appeal and said Klair's offending went "significantly beyond" what would normally be seen in a pro-forma invoicing case.

Justice Ailsa Duffy, when considering the appeal, agreed the District Court judge had adopted a starting point that was too high and that he must have been influenced by the $700,000 turnover figure.

"However, to what extent, if at all, this figure may be seen to represent the fruits of this fraud is speculative," Justice Duffy said.

From the lower starting point, Justice Duffy gave a discount for the offender's previous good character, remorse and guilty plea.

The judge reached a final sentence of 5 months' home detention. She was not persuaded that a sentence less than this, such as community detention, was appropriate.

"Even when the actual losses are small, deliberate and sophisticated dishonesty over a lengthy period of time calls for a stern penalty. The offender and other like-minded persons in the community should be put on notice that the penalties for such conduct will bite," Justice Duffy said.

Read the court decision here:

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf01 at 28 Nov 2014 22:09:09 Processing Time: 1082ms