A lawyer has been sentenced for making false statements to help a group of businessmen allegedly collect a $41 million bank loan and develop a four-star Auckland hotel.
Timothy Upton Slack, 55, was one of four men charged over the development project that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has been investigating since at least March last year.
He pleaded guilty this month to obtaining by deception.
Justice Kit Toogood today sentenced him to 10 months' home detention.
The now-defunct company Emily Projects developed the Celestion Apartments on Auckland's Anzac Ave and Emily Pl.
The group allegedly made false statements and used forged documents to get a loan from ANZ for Emily Projects to develop the Waldorf Celestion Apartment Hotel.
It is alleged that a loan facility of about $41 million was obtained for the two-tower project.
Slack provided ANZ with a signed written undertaking confirming the validity of the loan and stated there was no incorrect or misleading information.
However, Justice Toogood said Slack was well aware of the deception.
He said Slack made personal assurances to ANZ that he "knew were blatant lies" and used his position as a solicitor to gain the bankers' trust.
"The deliberate and planned nature of the offending increases your culpability," the judge said, adding it was a "gross breach of trust".
ANZ did not lose any funds as a result of Slack's fraud.
Justice Toogood said he'd be "very surprised" if Slack did not lose his practising licence to continue working as a barrister or solicitor.
The judge said Slack's professional knowledge aggravated his offending.
"I am aware that this sentencing weighs heavily on you, Mr Slack, and that you have carried that burden for some considerable period of time," Justice Toogood said.
Prosecuting for the SFO, John Dixon QC said: "Someone who has the advantages of working in the law, ought to have known better."
Slack's lawyer Ron Mansfield said his client had a "very poignant" moment this morning as he endured a "walk of shame" to the High Court.
Slack passed dozens of young university graduates at the start of their careers as he effectively ushered in an end to his, Mansfield said.
The Herald cannot name Slack's current law firm or the firm he was working at during the time of his offending, because of court suppression orders, but his employer said he was aware of the disgraced lawyer's charges and sentencing today.
He said Slack, as of yesterday afternoon, was employed as a staff solicitor.
He couldn't comment further because of employment privacy, but the court heard he will be retained as an unqualified clerk.
Mansfield said Slack would continue to work in a non-professional role.
Justice Toogood said Slack's genuine remorse showed he was aware he had brought "the entire legal profession into disrepute and undermines the confidence in it".
In a brief statement the SFO acknowledged Slack's sentencing for fraud pertaining to the development project.
The remaining defendants in the case, property developer Leonard John Ross, company director Michael James Wehipeihana, and self-employed consultant Vaughn Stephen Foster will face trial on June 5 next year.
Justice Toogood said he had made no inclination as to the cases of the remaining trio.
Emily Projects, directed by Ross, went into liquidation in 2012.
Emily Projects' liquidators, Timothy Downes and Greg Sherriff said in their final liquidators report in October 2015 that investors had claimed $2.89m from the firm and two other creditors had claimed $671,000.
These creditors had been paid $420,310, a return of 11.8c in the dollar.
The charges were laid against the men in the Auckland District Court last October.
In 2012, Slack was also censured, fined $5000, and ordered to pay nearly $25,000 by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal for failing to comply with undertakings he had given.
Inconsistencies in what Slack was saying about his agreements began when the SFO investigated transactions involving Blue Chip Financial Solutions Ltd, New Zealand Law Society magazine LawTalk reported.
The company had arrangements with developers to facilitate the sale of apartments.
The SFO reported the differences between the deposits claimed in the undertakings and the amounts in Slack's firm's trust account.
After the Law Society investigated, two charges were laid with the tribunal, relating to two developments, LawTalk reported.
The magazine said in both cases, Slack gave false undertakings that deposits of 10 per cent of the apartments' sale prices were held in the firm's trust account.
A bank had approved both loans to the developer on the condition the pre-sales of apartments reached a certain value and that a minimum 10 per cent deposit was to be held by Slack's firm as the developers' solicitors.
Slack confirmed in writing that both deposits were held by his firm.
He confessed to the charges.
The tribunal described Slack's conduct as "serious negligence and without doubt adversely affects the profession's reputation".
"[Slack] had clear instructions and he knew that what he said in his undertakings was not correct.
"It was a very casual approach to complying with the various lenders' requirements and it misled them as to the true state of affairs," it said.
The tribunal also noted when the lawyer's deception became apparent, a major trading bank entangled in the matter as a lender stopped dealing with Slack and his firm.
Slack's $5000 fine was the maximum monetary punishment under the Law Practitioners Act, and the tribunal said it would have otherwise been "substantially higher".
There was no loss to any party as a result of the incorrect undertakings.
The lawyer was also ordered to pay the Law Society $20,086 in standards committee costs and $4500 in tribunal costs.