A senior Ports of Auckland manager who was jailed for stealing more than $368,000 of Auckland ratepayers' money with the help of his lover will be released from prison.
Paul Wayne Bainbridge, 54, was sentenced to three years and one months' imprisonment in December 2017 after he and Litia Vuniduvu swindled the Auckland Council-owned company out of $368,842.50 during a three-year invoice fraud.
Now this month, after his first Parole Board hearing, Bainbridge will be released from prison as Vuniduvu awaits her own sentence of imprisonment.
Vuniduvu was found guilty by a jury of 50 charges of dishonestly using a document after a two-week retrial at the Auckland District Court in April.
Bainbridge, who worked at the ports as the manager of its ICT services, was eligible for parole on May 28, having served the minimum non-parole period of half of his sentence.
In its decision, released to the Herald today, the Parole Board said it had a "reasonably detailed conversation" with Bainbridge about his version of the offending.
"Mr Bainbridge admits that he was lax around process and failed to put his conflict of interest with [Vuniduvu] in writing. However, he says that the work covered by the invoices was actually provided by [Vuniduvu] to the Ports of Auckland.
"Mr Bainbridge told the board he accepts full responsibility for the fact that he chose to employ someone that he had a conflict with and failed to put that in writing. He said he obtained the oral agreement of his manager for the work. He admitted that he helped her create the invoices."
But the board worried that Bainbridge "continues to minimise the offending and his role in it".
When sentencing Bainbridge, Judge Brooke Gibson expressed similar concerns.
The judge said he feared Bainbridge had minimised his criminality by claiming the illegality was not the fraud but rather employing his girlfriend.
"Clearly, this is completely at odds with the summary of facts to which you have pleaded guilty and is little more than an attempt to minimise the extent of your own criminality," Judge Gibson said.
Nevertheless, the board assessed Bainbridge as posing a low risk of re-offending and was said to have been well behaved in prison.
"It appears that he has demonstrated an excellent approach to his sentence and has used his time to advance his trade skills including farming and painting," the board's decision reads.
Bainbridge also told the board he plans to work in a backroom office role upon his release.
"Over time he plans to pursue employment using the trade skills he has learnt. He understands that he will need to do this as an employee while subject to conditions and not as a contractor," the board said.
"We note that this is his only offending and the circumstances of it are unlikely to be replicated particularly with the informed support and supervision that is available to him and assuming his strict compliance with the conditions we will be imposing."
The special conditions for Bainbridge included; not having any contact with Vuniduvu, who is currently in custody, and not being involved in the handling of money, provision of advice or management of the financial accounts or transactions, of any person or entity, unless approval by a probation officer.
Court documents released to the Herald showed Vuniduvu first met the married Bainbridge on an internet dating website in 2012.
The duo quickly conspired and sent the first of several dozens of bogus invoices to Ports of Auckland in December 2013.
After the fraud was discovered in an audit, Ports of Auckland's senior staff were shocked.
The company said in a victim impact statement, obtained by the Herald, that Bainbridge was considered an "experienced, trust worthy and professional worker".
"Mr Bainbridge was in a position of trust, was well paid and was considered a dutiful family man," the statement reads.
When confronted, Bainbridge refused to offer his employer an explanation and made claims which the chief financial officer considered to be a "blatant lie".