Decision reserved in Maori trust fraud trial

By Gisborne Herald staff

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

The former CEO of a Maori trust says there was no criminality in her irregular use of the trust's credit cards to obtain a total of about $22,000.

Te Hemoata Dawn Pomana, 59, the CEO of Ngai Tamanuhiri Whanui Trust until her resignation in 2011, pleaded not guilty to three charges of using a document for a pecuniary advantage when she appeared in a judge-alone trial in Gisborne District Court.

Judge Tony Adeane has reserved his decision, to be released on July 21. Pomana is on bail.

The representative charges relate to Pomana's use of two trust credit cards between 2006 and 2011 to obtain amounts of $15,440, $3793 and $2806.

Pomana often used the cards for personal expenditure but declared that use and reimbursed the trust.

The trust was concerned when she started making cash withdrawals in late 2010 -- often from the same money machine and late at night, sometimes for several hundred dollars at a time, and several times during a day. There were 94 such transactions -- none of which were declared.

In evidence, trust general manager Richard Brooking said that when he went to its aid in late 2011, the trust faced financial collapse and was unable to pay staff beyond two weeks.

Pomana was dealt with in-house in tikanga manner. She was asked to resign and to pay back $6000 still owing.

The trust considered the matter over but a more thorough investigation into accounts (by his wife) was prompted when Pomana launched an employment suit for wrongful dismissal in 2013.

Mrs Nellie Brooking discovered Pomana owed a further $800 for a trip to Australia and that there was another amount, of about $1500, not accounted for. There was also a debt of $3600 to the kohanga reo, of which Pomana had been chairwoman, but no record of the loan.

The investigation showed Pomana's repayments were erratic nearer the end of her tenure.

Police were informed.

Pomana elected not to call or give evidence in the day-and-a-half trial, which ended yesterday.

Her defence was evident through counsel Elliott Lynch's cross-examination of police witnesses.

Mr Lynch put it to Mr Brooking that the trust informed police only as retaliation for Pomana launching an employment suit against it for wrongful dismissal.

If it really was a criminal case, then it would have been referred to police when it was discovered two years earlier, he submitted.

There had been no formal policies for credit card use. Pomana was named as the account holder. She had regularly reimbursed the trust and maintained a good working relationship within it.

Mr Brooking had misinterpreted Pomana's emotion during his meetings with her before her resignation. Rather than being contrite and apologetic for wrongful behaviour, as he described, she was apologetic for leaving the trust at a time of need, Mr Lynch said.

Mr Brooking negated those claims but admitted the decision to go to police was partly due to Pomana's personal grievance action, which could cost the trust up to $50,000.

Trustees were upset by the suit, believing they had dealt with Pomana compassionately. By taking a tikanga approach, they acknowledged her 16 years of service, the recent death of her husband and had kept the matter out of the media. The trust had also put itself in a vulnerable position.

He agreed there might not have been formal trust policy on use of credit cards but said that as in any organisation, there was a general understanding they were not to be used for personal expenditure. The use of the cards for cash withdrawals was particularly appalling and the excuse those were for "soft loans" did not wash.

"There was also a concern that if Mrs Pomana had done this to our organisation, she might do it to another," Mr Brooking said.

"The months leading up to the final date were not brilliant and she was caught out owing $6000, which was not a good thing," he said.

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