Central Hawke's Bay community leaders hope their constituents will forgive former accountant Warren Pickett, who stole millions of dollars from more than 200 people over two decades.
It was believed Mr Pickett walked out of prison yesterday after being granted an early release by the New Zealand Parole Board. He was serving a five-year sentence which began in 2009, for ripping off friends and trust clients of up to $20 million.
Central Hawke's Bay mayor Peter Butler said he knew Mr Pickett for many years when he lived in Waipawa. Their daughters were born on the same day and went to school together.
"Although I never lost any money, the Picketts were family friends and so for me this was a huge shock, more than most people," he said.
"I believe there will be some who will never forgive him. All I can say is that he has done his time and punishment. I just hope some people can turn to their Christian side and forgive him."
Former Central Hawke's Bay mayor, now Hawke's Bay regional councillor Tim Gilbertson, also hoped people would give Mr Pickett "a fair go".
"I think that while most people were outraged at the time and some are still pretty angry, the general feeling is that he has done his time and the community will let bygones be bygones," he said.
"Warren served the community in a number of roles before he fell from grace. While his offending was serious and had disastrous consequences for many citizens, CHB is a good-hearted and forgiving community. I believe that while he is unlikely in some quarters to be welcomed back with open arms, he will be given a fair go by the vast majority."
One of the victims, Murray Cameron, a retiree from Waipukurau, said he managed to recoup some of the money he had invested in Mr Pickett's company.
"We had dealt with him for more than 30 years and a lot of families also went with him as they wanted to follow the local man," he said. "We all feel we've been let down and I am afraid, to me, trust is everything."
Mr Cameron said he did not want to have any contact with Mr Pickett when he heard of his early release from prison.
"I consider the matter history now but for others, they've lost large amounts of money and it's still quite serious for them."