Crown prosecutors want former Treaty negotiator Ngatata Love to serve jail time for obtaining $1.5 million by deception while chairman of the Wellington Tenths Trust.
Love was due to be sentenced at the High Court in Wellington this morning, following Justice Graham Lang's guilty verdict last month, but this has been delayed until tomorrow afternoon to let his lawyer Colin Carruthers QC consult Love's doctors about the effect prison could have on his health, following a report from the Department of Corrections on the medical care they could provide in prison. That advice was delivered this morning. Carruthers is seeking a sentence of home detention for his client.
Crown prosecutor Matthew Ferrier told the court imprisonment of five-to-five-and-a-half years would be an appropriate starting point for sentencing and that a 20 per cent discount for Love's "substantial contributions in many ways" to society would be appropriate.
The court heard from numerous character witnesses for Love this morning, including two of his grandchildren. Notwithstanding these references and the evidence given that the fraud was out of character, Ferrier said it was important for the court to impose a sentence which would deter similar offending.
"The sad reality is it's not uncommon for offenders of high standing to come before the court and to suffer such a significant fall from grace," Ferrier said. "Denunciation in general and deterrence in particular need to be in the forefront of the court's mind in sentencing, and the only available approach is imprisonment."
Ferrier said aggravating factors included the seriousness of the breach of trust, both in Love's fiduciary duty as a trustee of the Tenths Trust and the trust placed in him by his fellow trustees, the premeditated nature of the offending and the attempts to cover it up, the scale of the secret payment and the financial and non-financial impact of the offending on the Tenths Trust, a Maori incorporation..
The guilty verdict followed an investigation into a $1.5m payment from a land developer into a trust controlled by Love's partner, Lorraine Skiffington, which was then used to repay a property loan on a Plimmerton house he and Skiffington co-owned. It was the first instalment of what was intended to be a $3m payment.
Carruthers said today that Love's conviction was a "punishment in itself" and was a "shameful result for somebody of his standing." The defence lawyer argued that due to Love's medical conditions, which include a heart condition and dementia, a two-year sentence and home detention would be appropriate. Love's doctor had expressed concern about the medical care available in prison, he said.
"The courts are able to take into account the fact that sentencing may be harder on some prisoners because of their medical conditions," he said. A four-year starting point could be justifiably reduced, due to Love's "outstanding service" and medical condition, to two years, which would make a home detention sentence available, Carruthers said.
Love had been misled by Skiffington and Shaan Stevens, a consultant who worked alongside Skiffington and Love, Carruthers said. While that wasn't an excuse for the offending, it had an impact on Love's personal culpability, he said. Skiffington was also charged but has been granted a permanent stay due to her ill health.
"It's really inescapable that there was on Dr Love's part a misjudgement in the way that there was reliance on Mr Stevens and Ms Skiffington," Carruthers said. "It's very plain that she took advantage of him and he has made a misjudgement about her character."
Love's stake in the Plimmerton Rd house was the subject of discussion. Love is no longer a trustee of the trust which holds a half-stake in the property, which has between $600,000 and $800,000 of equity. The house is subject to parallel proceedings under the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act.
Justice Lang said Love didn't own the property and he could not compel the trust which holds the other half to sell, so he didn't see how he could make an order for reparation. Ferrier said Love still had a beneficial interest and the judge could make an order for half of the value of the property, as it was not unusual for the courts to "look through" the trust structure.
Love doesn't have any other ability to make reparations, the judge said.