A judge has told a former Wanganui businessman who stole thousands of dollars from clients that an apology for his crimes was "self-serving at the 11th hour".

Yesterday, in the Whanganui District Court, Steven Burlace, 55, was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for taking $428,000 from investor clients.

Three investors read their victim reports to court, revealing how Burlace's theft of their money would have long-term impacts.

Judge David Cameron told Burlace his offending was serious. The starting point for sentencing was four years in jail on three counts of theft by a person in a special relationship and one of dishonestly using a document.


Burlace received a 20 per cent discount for his guilty plea and six months' discount for his previous good character.

He had admitted three counts of theft by a person in a special relationship and one of dishonestly using a document when he appeared before Judge Cameron in July.

Burlace had written a letter of apology to the investors, which Judge Cameron said he did not accept was genuine and was "self-serving at the 11th hour".

Judge Cameron told Burlace his remorse was "hollow" and he had a "callous disregard for the plight of all those who lost their money" when they invested in his Wanganui finance company.

Burlace had knowingly embezzled $280,000 of investors' money and used a further $148,000 for personal expenses.

When Burlace and his two insurance broker partners held a meeting in 2007, he denied any wrongdoing. When asked where the money had gone, Burlace had told them: "I didn't steal it, I only used it to fund my lifestyle."

Burlace's lawyer Peter Brosnahan told the court that, from day one, the "business model was a failure, it was never going to work".

One couple who had invested money told the court they lived simply and within their means and had invested their $20,000 with Westsure Premium Finance Ltd for unexpected hardship. But they forgave Burlace for his actions, based on their Christian values. The second investor said she felt "conned and devalued by someone who felt entitled to money that was not theirs". Her lost investment funds meant long-term impact and she had had to reorganise her life's long-term vision.

In 1992, Burlace and two partners formed Westsure Insurance Brokers, selling general insurance. He later proposed setting up an investment business to fund insurance premiums and in 1997 he became the sole director of Westsure Premium Finance Ltd, which offered a year-long time-payment option on insurance premiums for clients.

Clients were required to pay monthly instalments of 10 per cent of the annual premium, which should have resulted in a 20 per cent profit after the annual premiums were paid. This was to be split between the company and investors.