A conman has been sentenced to two years and four months' jail on 12 charges of defrauding a total of $260,850 from three elderly people.
Steven Francis Younger, 45, used proceeds from his latest frauds to repay previous victims, an action "so offensive it nearly defies description", Judge Gerard Lynch told the New Plymouth District Court today.
Judge Lynch described the case as incredibly sad. The defendant befriended and took advantage of older people.
Professing to be a family man and a church man, he was in fact a dishonest man through and through who weaved a plausible story and built on it, layer upon layer, to engender trust before bleeding his victims of their hard-earned life savings.
The victims described stress at the loss of their savings, distrust of others, sleepless nights and feelings of paranoia about their security.
One man said he had always been a good judge of character, but he got it wrong with Younger.
"You didn't show a lot of finesse," the judge said to the defendant, who sat in the dock with his head in his hands for much of the hearing, "but not a lot was needed."
The court heard that at various times between 2010 and 2013, Younger befriended the victims and borrowed from them or told them he could get a higher return for their money, in two cases by claiming a fictitious sister worked for a bank and had access to better interest rates for short-term and foreign investments.
The latest charges followed convictions last June for similar offences. On that occasion, he was sentenced to 250 hours' community work and four months' community detention and was ordered to finish repaying an elderly people he targeted.
The court heard today that in one of the new cases he befriended a widow in her mid-70s he met through a church group in his home town of Stratford and persuaded her to part with a total of $97,000, which she never saw again.
After moving to Parakai to work as a sharemilker in 2012, Younger targeted a 73-year-old neighbour, who he eventually conned out of $101,050.
Rather than investing the money, Younger used some to pay reparation to a previous victim and gambled a percentage away.
Then he befriended a third victim and relieved him of $62,800.
A story in the Weekend Herald in August about Younger's convictions finally alerted the second victim, who contacted police.Younger spent the money on personal entertainment, gambling, air travel and fine dining.
Records showed he lost $60,000 on the horses.
He made a few small repayments to the last two victims.
Judge Lynch ordered full reparation, but expressed doubts about Younger's claims he was owed sufficient money to pay it: "We need to remember we are dealing with a convicted fraudster."
He said the judge in Younger's previous trial last year probably allowed him to stay out of jail because there was a chance he would make reparations if allowed to work.
Given what had transpired, that decision was now likely to be revisited by the earlier judge.
The final sentence was far from enough for the victims' supporters who spoke outside court after today's hearing today."
Disgusting, absolutely disgusting," said Shona How Gatenby of Huntly, a cousin of Younger's wife. "I can't believe how low the judge's starting point was."
She said she and her husband loaned Younger $50,000 for a sharemilking venture, money yet to be repaid.Stratford motel owner Grant Johnson said he had Younger and his wife managing his hotel for a year to 2009, until the defendant was discovered forging cheques, which was one of the offences he faced in court last year."
People spoke very highly of them, actually," Mr Johnson said. "He was a very slick talker. On one occasion I got a call from an Australian checking him out after he [Younger] told him he owned our motel."
At one point Younger put money into his son's account and made several internet transfers to the account of a previous victim, paying $19,000 in reparation.
Surveillance footage of Younger and his wife showed them withdrawing large amounts of cash using a credit card.
The judge gave Younger several months' discount from a starting point of three years and three months because one of his victims found the restorative justice process productive, and a report from the conference facilitator described the degree of remorse shown, although "it is difficult to accept from someone as dishonest as you".
A further reduction was granted for Younger's guilty pleas, which saved the elderly victims the stress of a full trial.