Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Fraudster Gavin Clifford Bennett released from jail

Gavin Clifford Bennett admitted being behind the wide-ranging Ponzi-style scheme, which included a $23m fraud against South Canterbury Finance. Photo / Geoff Sloan
Gavin Clifford Bennett admitted being behind the wide-ranging Ponzi-style scheme, which included a $23m fraud against South Canterbury Finance. Photo / Geoff Sloan

A Christchurch businessman who admitted a $103 million fraud that funded a "lavish'' and "grandiose'' high-rolling, jet-setter's lifestyle has been freed from jail after serving less than half his sentence.

Gavin Clifford Bennett, the 58-year-old former owner of IT firm DataSouth, admitted being behind the wide-ranging Ponzi-style scheme, which included a $23m fraud against South Canterbury Finance (SCF).

He was caught only after one of the Serious Fraud Office's largest-ever investigations.

In May 2012, he was jailed for eight years for what the sentencing judge described as "unprecedented level of fraud in our criminal history".

But now it can be revealed that the trained accountant has been released from.

"We believe the support offered [to Mr Bennett] including with accommodation, the continuing support available to Mr Bennett ... and, indeed, a large amount of other support, is sufficient to mitigate risk to a point where it is no longer undue," a Parole Board decision says.

A July 2015 psychological report assessed Bennett as being at a low risk of reoffending but noted he had a "capacity to mask his offending" from family and friends.

There wee also reports of a high level of entitlement and a lack of problem solving skills.

However, a safety plan was designed to reduce his risks and he was released in December with standard conditions, plus a further five special conditions including a ban on him taking work that involved taking responsibility for the handling or management of money.

Bennett created false documents relating to the lease of IT equipment to fraudulently obtain funds from SCF totalling $65.5m and falsified entries in Datasouth Finance financial statements by an estimated $38 million in order to retain the ongoing finance facility.

The resulting loss to SCF was at least $23m.

Bennett used the dishonestly obtained funds to repay earlier false lease agreements in a manner similar to a Ponzi scheme and to meet business expenses.

He also used the money to fund his high-rolling lifestyle.

Bennett, who moved to Sydney in around 2006 or 2007, shortly after breaking up with his wife of 20 or so years, Jane, partied in luxury Sydney waterfront apartments, surrounded himself with models and actresses, was chauffeured in BMW and Mercedes-Benz cars and "drank Dom Perignon like it was Speight's''.

The SFO earlier revealed the extent of the "significant areas of personal expenditure'', which included the rental of two "luxury'' residential apartments in The Rocks area of Sydney for A$463,000 and regular payments to "various female companions'' totalling A$900,000.

A staggering A$429,000 was spent on food and beverages, of which "a significant amount'' was spent at the ritzy Hemmesphere bar and restaurant, where the cheapest bottle of Dom Perignon goes for around $480 and he was given VIP treatment.

A further A$161,000 was spent on international air travel to Argentina, New York, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, New Caledonia, Rio de Janerio, San Francisco, Paris and London.

Jewellery and flowers, including purchases at Tiffany & Co, amounted to A$16,000, and he spent a further A$163,000 on clothes and apparel from Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Chanel, Giorgio Armani, Barney's and Bloomingdales in New York, Victoria's Secret, Paul Smith, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, and Harrods of London.

One former executive of DataSouth Business Solutions Ltd, a subsidiary of Bennett's main company which he set-up in the mid-1990s, told how Bennett was ferried around in chauffeur-driven BMW and Mercedes services - which cost more than A$50,000 in corporate car services.

The ex-worker told of "lavish'' office parties and being whisked across the Tasman to hit Sydney's exclusive hot-spots where Bennett "drank Dom Perignon like it was Speight's''.

The other "running joke'' with Bennett's employees was his lust for beautiful women.
He was often spotted in trendy Sydney bars with models and actresses.

"We called them 'Gav girls'. They were never far away,'' the Christchurch worker said.

One of the models he was linked to was Mariesa Crowder, who met him when he went for a drink at a venue she worked in. Last year, she said he was going to help her start her own firm but they closed it down soon after and she never saw him again.

He also spent time with Marlena Davis, a co-director of Datasouth's Australian arm.
Datasouth went into liquidation in 2011, leaving all 31 staff out of jobs.

- NZ Herald

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