A Tahiti-born conman jailed for defrauding fellow Seventh Day Adventists of $853,000 in a Nigerian oil scam was highly likely to commit similar offences in the future, a Dunedin District Court judge said yesterday.
Damas Tutehau Flohr, 69, was sentenced to four years' jail but, "alarmingly", still carried the "delusional view these schemes, which can only be described as scams, will deliver up riches", Judge Michael Crosbie said.
Flohr, who had a commerce degree from the University of Canterbury, had charmed and pressured fellow church members in Dunedin out of $853,215 in 2008 and 2009. He used his friendship with his pastor and others to obtain large amounts of money he said was needed to free up multiple millions of dollars being held for him in a New York bank.
But the millions never eventuated and seven of his fellow church members were poorer by a total of $853,215.
The possibility of the victims being repaid was negligible, given Flohr's age, lack of assets and inability to earn a living, Judge Crosbie said. But he set a reparation figure of $563,121 - two-thirds of the loss to the seven victims - and ordered payment on a pro-rata basis.
Money might legitimately come into Flohr's possession through possible future land deals in Tahiti and, if that did happen, the victims should have the money, the judge said.
Flohr pleaded guilty part way through his trial last November on seven charges of obtaining by deception.
But despite his guilty pleas, he clearly still believed there were mythical millions waiting for him in the Bank of New York Mellon and that, after the correct procedure had been completed, he would be able to claim them.
Because of this, there was "a very high likelihood" he would reoffend in a similar way, Judge Crosbie said.
He described the harm to the victims as significant. Flohr had used his charm and guile to manipulate their Christian ethos, taking advantage of longstanding relationships and the trust they had in him and his wife.
But that charm later turned to unrelenting pressure when he took some of his victims to their banks to obtain cash which would then be transferred to China or Nigeria through Western Union.
There came a time when Flohr's approaches to his fellow church member became reckless and fraudulent. He was pressing several people at the same time without disclosing that to any of them and he did nothing to secure the safety of their money. He exaggerated the authenticity of the funds and the likely returns.
Flohr was clearly using the same methods at the same time with several victims and must have been aware of the falsity of what he was doing, Judge Crosbie said.
A psychiatric report concluded there was no past medical or psychiatric history. From various pre-sentence reports and submissions from Crown and defence counsel Robin Bates and Max Winders, it was apparent Flohr still felt the events leading to the charges were genuine and that the money was still in overseas bank accounts.
While he had expressed some sadness about the losses to the victims, Flohr did not see himself as an offender. He believed the money existed, that it was his and that, after the correct procedures had been completed, he could claim it.
Flohr himself lost money to the scam before his offending, so the likelihood of him re-offending was high - "because of your belief".
His victims had lost very large amounts in some cases - one elderly couple handing over $198,000 during five months in 2009 because they felt sorry for him. Flohr had obtained almost $250,000 from his church pastor and his wife, more than $300,000 from the pastor's sister, and lesser sums ranging from $2500 to $59,000 from other church members.
The seriousness of the offending was exacerbated by the age of some of the victims and the fact they had been left with a lack of security in their senior years. Their age and their naivete had made them vulnerable.
An aggravating factor was the time over which the offending occurred and the fact there had been 162 separate instances of deception, Judge Crosbie said.
He told Flohr the old saying "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is" certainly applied in his case. And he hoped the sentencing would be a warning to people who came into contact with Flohr in the future.