Scamster grandmother jailed for seven years

By Anne Beston

An Auckland grandmother who enticed friends into a Nigerian money scam was given a seven-year jail term yesterday as her victims pleaded for their identities to be kept secret.

The unusual suppression request applies to at least 10 people who gave evidence against 65-year-old Patricia Lenine Mabel Walsh of Howick, found guilty at Auckland District Court on 50 fraud counts.

Walsh’s lawyer, Jeremy Bioletti, argued Walsh was herself a victim of the Nigerians and outside court lambasted the Serious Fraud Office for ignoring overseas criminals.

Dozens of New Zealanders were being caught up in overseas scams, he said, and Walsh’s prosecution was "like shooting fish in a barrel".

"While we heap all the opprobrium on Mrs Walsh, there is a much wider picture than that being portrayed."

But Crown prosecutor David Jones told the Court Walsh was a "heartless" liar who showed "utter disdain and contempt" for the people she defrauded.

Mr Jones said the suppression of victims’ names was to ensure people would come forward in future cases.

In sentencing, Judge Jeremy Doogue said one couple who lost money had moved to a small town and severely reduced their standard of living. They could not afford to visit grandchildren in Australia.

The wife felt "betrayed" by Walsh.

Mr Jones said Walsh emphatically denied any connection with Nigerian scamsters when questioned by her targets.

"At the outset you apparently sensed you would not be able to get people to subscribe to this scheme if they knew the truth," he said.

Among those duped by Walsh was a 90-year-old friend who lost her life savings - $337,000 - and a former senior member of an Auckland law firm who lost $1.8 million.

Two Auckland businessmen also lost money, one described as holding "public office".

A cousin, 78-year-old Elva Mary Medhurst, also of Howick, faced two charges of misappropriation but died partway through the trial.

To keep investors happy, Walsh manufactured letters from banks and law firms, including "doctoring" a property valuation report during a failed property development in 1998.

The collapse of that scheme led to the Nigerians, who promised to deliver $28 million after set-up and legal costs, taxes and bank fees were paid by the New Zealand investors.

On a trip to Amsterdam, Walsh was shown boxes said to contain the money.

Mr Bioletti said a decision on whether to lodge an appeal had not been made.

An interim name suppression order was made. The judge will give his final decision tomorrow.


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