A Lower Hutt man pleaded guilty today to a charge of obtaining by deception, after being accused of poaching potential clients from the Wellington corporate travel agency he worked for.
The court heard it was "an unusual set of circumstances."
Personal bank records showed that on about 36 occasions between November 13, 2009 and December 5, 2011, Timothy Kevin Bignall, 34, arranged clients' travel and created invoices using Orbit Travel's letterhead without authority, the Wellington District Court heard today.
He changed the payment details on the invoices to his own personal bank account.
On receiving the invoice money, Bignall paid for services such as hotel rooms and meals with his personal credit card. The balance from the invoices was kept as his commission.
The gross amount of the bookings was $992,753 and the total net profit between nine and 22 per cent of that.
Last September Bignall's employers found sales were lower than normal, drawing an admission that he had made bookings with the intention of poaching their potential clients.
Bignall repaid $179,389.67 in commissions and ended up being out of pocket himself, Judge Mike Behrens QC was told.
He was left holding responsibility for the $205,000 cost of a Rugby World Cup tour some South African clients did not pay for. His commission was included in the sum he handed over in a settlement to Orbit Travel on The Terrace in Wellington, where he had worked for 14 years.
Lawyer Bryan Yeoman said Bignall was now trying to sue the South Africans for the commission.
Said Judge Behrens: "They aren't likely to pay - they lost."
Mr Yeoman said an employment dispute was triggered and his client paid reparation of $117,197 of the net profit, followed by a further $62,292 in December on the understanding that there would not be any prosecution.
Bignall had been "completely up front" with his employers but "regrettably" they later handed the information to police and a charge was laid late last year.
Nobody was out of pocket except his client, Mr Yeoman said.
The company declined to take over deals begun by Bignall, leaving him with the commercial risk - hence his attempt to sue the non-paying South Africans.
After reading a victim impact report handed up to him, Judge Behrens said he could not sentence today without having pre-sentence and reparation reports.
It appeared "quite a huge sum" was being sought "beyond the monies involved."
Remanding Bignall on bail until June, the judge indicated he would be looking at a community work sentence but the reparation question concerned him.
- APNZBy Rosaleen Macbrayne