Maori trust kept alleged fraud 'inhouse'

By Gisborne Herald staff

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

A Maori trust initially dealt in-house with its CEO's irregular spending of about $22,000, rather than prosecute.

It did not want to risk the "hammering" Maori entities took when problems were publicised, its general manager Richard Brooking told Gisborne District Court.

But about two years later, when former CEO Te Hemoata Dawn Pomana launched a personal grievance for wrongful dismissal against it, the Ngai Tamanuhiri Whanui trust went to police.

Pomana, 59, pleaded not guilty to three charges of using a document for pecuniary advantage and faces a judge-alone trial before Judge Tony Adeane in Gisborne District Court this week.

The charges are representative and relate to her use of two trust credit cards between 2006 and her resignation in 2011 to obtain total amounts of $15,440, $3793 and $2806.

Police prosecutor Sergeant Tess Brownlie said the larger sum amounted from 94 cash withdrawals - many of which were late at night or in the early hours of the morning and from the same cash machine "near the TAB" on the corner of Peel Street and Gladstone Road.

Sometimes several withdrawals totalling several hundred dollars were made in one day.

In evidence, Richard Brooking said that when he first stepped in during September 2011, the trust was on the brink of financial collapse and could only afford to pay its five workers for the next fortnight. His primary concern was not with prosecution but on finding funds to keep it afloat.

He made a special application to draw down money from a pre-Treaty settlement fund of about $900,000.

An excuse that the cash withdrawals were for "soft loans" to whanau members did not bear up.

While most of the money had been reimbursed, Pomana's efforts to do so had implicated other office staff - including her daughter (her PA) who had expressed concern to him, he said.

The court proceedings against Pomana were a "sad day" for Ngai Tamanuhiri, many of whom Pomana was either related to or friendly with, he said. She had been involved with the trust for about 16 years, often working tirelessly.

After her resignation, the trust compassionately offered Pomana a $5000 contract to deliver education services at Muriwai's kohanga reo.

When he first asked Pomana about the expenditures, she was contrite and said she had made a mistake, the court heard.

Some trustees wanted to prosecute immediately. The trust was to receive a Treaty settlement of $11.7 million in August 2012 and trustees were concerned it needed to be in safe hands.

But the decision was made to deal with Pomana in-house, provided she resign and pay back $6000 still outstanding. One of the reasons for that decision was the risk of poor publicity.

Mr Brooking's wife Nellie Brooking, in evidence, said she was asked to analyse the trust's accounts in 2013 after Pomana launched her personal grievance. But that was not the sole motivation for going to police.

Mrs Brooking told the court Pomana had established a pattern of identifying and reimbursing personal expenditures soon after the first credit card was issued in 2006. Although against the general agreement, the practice was not overly concerning but her repayments became more erratic.

Mrs Brooking identified a further $800 undeclared expenditure, relating to a trip Pomana took to Australia, and another amount of about $1500, for which she could not account.

There was a cheque received for $3600 from the kohanga reo, which operated separately to the trust and of which Pomana had been the chairwoman. There was no record in any trust documents as to the reason for that loan.

Under cross-examination, counsel Elliott Lynch put it to Mrs Brooking that although Pomana was the chairwoman, she was not one of two signatories authorised to issue cheques from the kohanga.

He also put it to Mrs Brooking that her close relationship to Richard Brooking meant she was unlikely to have been impartial.

The court was told the trust had no formal policy or deeds associated with credit card use but there was an understanding they would be used only for trust-related business expenditure or with the board's approval.

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