Guilty verdict in Maori trust fraud trial

By Gisborne Herald staff

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

The former chief executive of a Maori trust has been found guilty of dishonestly using the organisation's credit card to obtain about $15,000.

She was relieved of two charges involving lesser amounts.

Te Hemoata Dawn Pomana, 59, the former CEO of Ngai Tamanuhiri Whanui denied three charges of using a document for a pecuniary advantage at a defended hearing in Gisborne District Court earlier this month.

In a decision released yesterday, Judge Tony Adeane found her guilty of having used a trust credit card to make 93 separate cash withdrawals totalling $15,440, between December 26, 2010 and September 15, 2011.

She was remanded further on bail for sentence on October 13.

Pomana was found not guilty of having used a trust credit card between October 2, 2007 and September 6, 2011 for lesser personal expenditure on goods and services totalling $3793 and $2806. Pomana had routinely identified that expenditure for the accounts clerk and regularly reimbursed the trust.

Judge Adeane said while it was opaque and unbusinesslike, nevertheless the practice was allowed to evolve and continue. In respect of those charges, there were difficulties in concluding beyond reasonable doubt that Pomana was acting without authority and knew it.

But the cash withdrawals were in a different category.

"They are of such a magnitude that an inference of dishonesty, rather than authority, is virtually irresistible," Judge Adeane said.

They were often from the same ATM and outside business hours.

The first, on December 26, 2010, was detected by the accounts clerk in January the following year. He bypassed Pomana to report it to the then trust chairman Nga Raihania, who instructed her to stop.

But she continued regardless. They escalated in frequency and amount.

Those further withdrawals were uncovered when Pomana, who had been dealt with in-house by the trust during 2011, launched a personal grievance suit during 2013.

Her action prompted new trust manager Richard Brooking to have the trust's books further investigated.

In evidence, Mr Brooking had said that when he became involved with it during November 2011, trust finances were so depleted he needed to apply to advance a Treaty settlement fund in order to stabilise them.

Some trustees had wanted to prosecute Pomana but the majority elected to deal with the matter in a tikanga (family) way. Amends were made, with Pomana resigning forthwith.

Judge Adeane noted she had not made any claim of right or honesty of purpose, or statement to police.

At the hearing, she had chosen not to give evidence or expose herself to cross-examination.

Pomana's defence was advanced by counsel Elliot Lynch via recurring themes in his cross-examination of prosecution witnesses:

? Pomana's personal expenditure was known to her subordinate.

? The expenditure was to some extent made known to Mr Raihania and thereby condoned by him.

? The complaint to police was delayed for two years and only made for the ulterior purpose of countering her employment grievance.

? Pomana acted openly -- from which honesty of purpose should be implied.

But those suggestions met with "little acceptance"from the witnesses to whom they were put, the judge said. That her subordinate accounts clerk was involved in collating all the trust's expenses, including Pomana's personal ones, did not advance the matter.

"It is understandable, given the apparent authority with which the defendant carried out the transactions, that her subordinate would have assumed she was entitled to do so," the judge said.

Neither could the suggestion that the arrangement survived the intervention of Mr Raihania, advance matters for Pomana.

It was clear Mr Raihania, in deference to Pomana's personal difficulties, wanted to approach matters in as non-confrontational way as possible. However, there could be no doubt what he meant when he told her to "tai hoa"on personal expenditure. Despite that, her cash withdrawals continued.

The allegations were not compromised by being delayed or made in response to the employment grievance.

"I accept Mr Brooking's evidence that the lawyer's letter simply provoked a review of investigation into the accounts which, in turn, uncovered the significant cash withdrawals.

"On an alternative view of matters, the trustees may well have been entitled to reason that their difficulties with the defendant could be resolved the 'easy way or the hard way' and that when she chose to allege unjustified dismissal, she left them no option but to investigate further and make a formal complaint," the judge said.

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