Masterton businessman Ron Horne has vowed to trade his way out of a more than $10,000 hole into which a serial fraudster allegedly dropped him.
Mr Horne, who owns and operates WyPhonesNZ in the Master Mall in Masterton, said he had in February unwittingly hired convicted fraudster Benjamin James Gernhoefer as a cellphone repair assistant.
He worked alongside his first-ever employee for three weeks, he said, before giving Gernhoefer his full trust and passing on sole charge of his small business over the past two months.
On Monday a week ago a long-time customer warned Mr Horne the business had been shut for several days and Gernhoefer was nowhere to be found.
"I came down and my shop was all closed up and there was a crowd of angry people. They wanted to 'see that other guy' who said he had bought the business off me.
"Then I found out he'd done a runner."
Mr Horne said he had last spoken to Gernhoefer earlier that same Monday and after visiting his shop discovered his employee had abandoned his rental home and left town.
He said 17 cellphones brought in for repairs also had disappeared from the business with the flight of Gernhoefer, including several handsets valued at more than $1000 each. Hundreds of dollars worth of advance payments had also vanished, along with several weeks of takings, phone parts, and loan phones.
Mr Horne reported the thefts to police and had posted online and in the window of his shop, looking for any other customers who also may have lost their phone or paid an advance fee.
He had since recovered several missing phones after posting online and also learned Gernhoefer had served a jail sentence for fraud and amassed numerous dishonesty convictions involving electronics.
"He'd been coming in and getting parts and repairing phones for another business when I first met him. I needed a break and thought I would train him up and get him to look after my shop," Mr Horne said.
"Everything was going well, there were parts on the shelves - I thought - and money was coming in. But then he shot through and I found out there were no parts and my takings over a few weeks had been pocketed too," he said.
"I wish I'd just Googled his name - none of this would have happened."
Gernhoefer in 2010 pleaded guilty in New Plymouth District Court to four fraud charges involving $5000 worth of electronic gear and an unpaid motel bill.
He last year pleaded guilty in Masterton District Court to fraud charges involving electronic gear and a car and was sentenced to community detention.
Judge Tom Broadmore decided not to send him back to prison, where he had earlier served a sentence for fraud.
Mr Horne said his business, which he established in Christchurch in mid-2010, had already survived calamities that included the uninsured loss of about $15,000 worth of phones, tools and equipment in the earthquake that struck the city in February of 2011, and the loss to burglars a year later of about $5000 worth of gear after he shifted to Masterton and set up shop in Dixon St.
Mr Horne said he would again pay back customers who had lost their phones.
"I'm not going to walk out on my customers. It's just not me."
Any other customers who have lost their money or cellphones are urged to call Senior Constable Peter Cunningham at Masterton Central Police Station on 06 3700 378.