Ross Asset Management employees knew "all was not well" with fraudster David Ross six months before the Financial Markets Authority swooped on New Zealand's largest known Ponzi scheme.
Appearing in the High Court at Wellington before Justice Denis Clifford, Ross's former employee Helena Lintern said she thought her boss was unwell in early 2012, around the time investors began frequently asking to get their money out.
Under cross examination by Mike Colson, counsel for RAM's liquidators, Lintern agreed in hindsight she could see new money was being used to pay investors.
Colson had asked if it was at the start of 2012 she first realised "all was not well with the company".
"Well, all was not well with David Ross," Lintern said. In an email sent to Ross in March 2012, Lintern raised concerns that some clients couldn't get their money out, and were even alleging their money had disappeared.
From then on requests by investors for their money "became very regular, in fact it became the norm," she said.
RAM's assets were frozen and receivers appointed in late 2012 by the FMA after the watchdog received complaints about delayed or non-payment of investor funds.
Ross wasn't available in the early days of the investigation because he had been hospitalised under the Mental Health Act.
It subsequently emerged that Wellington-based Ross, having built up a private investment service by word of mouth, was actually reporting fictitious returns, and paying investors out of new investor inflows.
Between June 2000 and September 2012, Ross reported false profits of $351 million from fictitious securities trading as part of a fraud that was the largest single such crime committed by an individual in New Zealand.
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Lintern's evidence is part of an attempt by stockbroker Duncan Priest to keep a $2 million share parcel from swindled Ross Asset Management investors, claiming his investments through the company were not part of the Ponzi scheme.
Yesterday the court heard Priest tried to transfer his shares out in October 2012.At the heart of Priest's push to retain his share parcel is a $100,000 purchase of 500,000 Diligent Corp shares.
The broker used Ross Asset Management as a nominee to hold his investments, but remained active in trading his portfolio, unlike other Ross-managed investors. Complicating matters is Ross's use of a single current account, making it difficult to trace what was bought when, and with whose money.
Today the court heard that PwC liquidator John Fisk had found between 70 percent and 80 per cent of profits were fictional as far back as 2006, but he hadn't yet established if it was always a Ponzi scheme, given the bank accounts only went back so far.
Fisk speculated that Ross was "running a legitimate scheme to start out" but at some point reported a profit when he'd made a loss, and took on debt to try and cover it.
"When the music stopped" there was about $110 million in claims of lost money, largely caused by paying out of fictitious profits, Fisk said.
It was "surprising" Ross's "personal gain was a very small proportion" of the loss, he said. In total there were $10 million in actual shares, against Ross's claimed $450 million.
Of the $10 million of actual stock Ross bought, half had proprietary claims over them, with the remaining ownership unidentifiable.David Chisholm QC, Priest's counsel, cross examined Fisk over his methodology for tracing investments through Ross Asset Management.
Using a "first in first out" approach, the liquidators tracked back through the bank account, which Fisk described as a "bucket" where transactions went in and out.
Using that method, it showed Priest's payment to Ross Asset Management went to pay wages, rent and repay investors, rather than being spent on the shares he was hoping to purchase.
PwC's Fisk and David Bridgman were appointed to preserve the assets of the Ross family and related trusts as part of the wider investigation into Ross Asset Management.
Ross is currently serving a 10-year, 10-month jail term, which carries a minimum non-parole period of five years and five months.The hearing before Justice Clifford continues.