Church members lost $850,000 to conman, court told

Photo / File
Photo / File

A Seventh Day Adventist Church pastor and several of his congregation lost $850,000 to a fellow church member who falsely claimed he had $US30 million owed to him from a Nigerian oil contract, a court has been told.

Damas Tutehau Flohr, 69, persuaded the pastor and his wife, two other couples and four individuals to advance him $853,000 when he was having financial difficulties, Crown counsel Robin Bates told a jury in Dunedin District Court yesterday.

None of the people knew about the others providing Flohr with funds and none had been repaid, Mr Bates said.

A government employee involved in the research and analysis of scams described court documents relating to Flohr's claims as "obviously scams" or having "all the hallmarks of a scam".

He said it was "inconceivable" any individual would receive a letter stamped "urgent" from the Federal Reserve Bank because it did not hold funds for individuals.

Flohr is on trial before Judge Michael Crosbie and a jury on seven charges of causing losses by deception totalling around $850,000.

In his opening, Mr Bates said the Crown alleged Flohr obtained the funds by deception and had, "on numerous occasions", made false representations to the victims.

These included claims he had $US30 million due from an oil contract in Nigeria, money available in the United States of America and the United Kingdom and property interests in Tahiti that he could sell to cover the funds if necessary.

The Crown said Flohr intended to deceive through his stories which were not correct and that he had represented various scenarios which were materially false.

Melvyn Trevena and his wife Lynette were among those who lost money.

Mr Trevena, a Seventh Day Adventist pastor in Dunedin from early 2002 to 2009, had known of Flohr since the 1960s. He was in England in 2007 when Flohr contacted him, asking for money because of financial difficulties, the court was told.

When he forwarded $4000, Flohr said he would be able to repay him in about a month as he would be able to release some funds from an oil contract in Nigeria if the money was paid.

Between October 2008 and December 2009, Flohr asked for several other amounts and Mr Trevena and his wife ultimately gave him $246,519.31, none of which had been repaid.

Another witness, Evelyn Wordsworth, who had met Flohr at college in the 1960s, paid him $305,000, her understanding being all the funds were sent to Nigeria, Mr Bates said.

Ms Wordsworth later began having concerns about what was happening. She thought it sounded like scams and began making inquiries. She contacted some of the businesses and banks Flohr had mentioned and asked about documentation. She was told it was not correct.

When Ms Wordsworth confronted him and said what he was doing amounted to scamming, Flohr was "not interested", Mr Bates said.

He claimed to have met some of the people involved, including the ex-president of Nigeria who was "like a father" to him and regarded him as a son.

After several of the complainants became aware of the situation, they went to Ranfurly where the accused and his wife had moved from Dunedin.

They confronted him and asked for their money back.

Flohr said he did not have it, although some money - about a million dollars - had arrived with an ambassador. But the ambassador had been turned away at the border.

The trial continues today.

- Otago Daily Times

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a2 at 17 Apr 2014 17:30:48 Processing Time: 621ms