A successful property developer turned "criminal mastermind" has lost not only his reputation and privileged position but also millions of dollars worth of personal assets.

The Court of Appeal today dismissed the challenge of Leonard John Ross, who sought to reduce his more than four-year prison term for orchestrating a $41 million bank fraud.

The scam, purportedly for the development of the two-tower Waldorf Celestion Apartment Hotel on Auckland's Anzac Ave and Emily Place, came crashing down because of a "disgruntled creditor".

The Court of Appeal judges agreed with many of the factors High Court sentencing judge Justice Rebecca Edwards identified, including Ross' role as the "architect" of the deception.


"Mr Ross was the mastermind of the scheme. Without him there would not have been any offending," Justices Brendan Brown, David Collins and John Wild's decision reads.

"The offending involved an elaborate series of misrepresentations and the use of numerous forged documents. It required careful planning. It also required persistent offending over a significant period of time."

The Herald earlier revealed the details of the scheme which began with Ross, an experienced and successful developer, in 2008 when he took over the project after splitting from a business partner.

Emily Projects was formed as a company to carry out the development, with Ross acting as the director and majority shareholder, while co-conspirator and former legal executive Michael James Wehipeihana took more than a third of the company.

The pair needed a large loan to develop the 127-apartment block but financial institutions were prepared to lend only if several sale and purchase agreements were already in place.

So from June 2008 they began making false oral and written representations about pre-sales to financiers, valuers, ANZ's lawyers and bank officers.

The deceptions and forgeries enabled them, along with financial consultant Vaughn Foster and the group's lawyer Timothy Slack, to gain access to a credit facility from ANZ worth more than $41m.

Their intention was to profit substantially from the apartment project, which was eventually completed in 2010.


But the group couldn't maintain the lie and in 2016 the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) charged all four men.

"Mr Ross abused his position as a respected businessman whom ANZ expected would act with honesty and integrity," the Court of Appeal decision reads.

"While ANZ had security, the amount that was at risk was significant. Had market conditions changed it is likely that ANZ would have lost many millions of dollars.

"Of significance in this case was the broader harm to ANZ caused by the deceptions perpetrated by Mr Ross and his co-offenders. The banking industry is an integral component of the New Zealand economy and this country's reputation is as a place where business and banking take place in an environment of honesty and integrity. That broader reputation of ANZ was placed at risk by Mr Ross and his co-offenders."

ANZ did not suffer any financial loss and in fact earned close to $8m from interest and fees that were charged as a result of transactions that were completed on the basis of the deceptions and forgeries.

Ross had provided personal guarantees to the bank and secured the credit facility with a mortgage over his family home.


His lawyer told the Court of Appeal his assets which were secured to ANZ were valued at $14.5m.

As a result of his convictions, however, Ross not only lost his reputation but also many millions of dollars worth of personal assets.

His wife and two of his children live in Melbourne and moved there soon after the SFO investigation began, Herald sources familiar with the case have said.

It is understood that during the court proceedings, Ross continued to enjoy luxury holidays and purchased property abroad.

The group used fake documents to deceive ANZ and gain a significant loan to develop Auckland's Waldorf Celestion Apartment Hotel. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The group used fake documents to deceive ANZ and gain a significant loan to develop Auckland's Waldorf Celestion Apartment Hotel. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Ross and Wehipeihana had gone to trial over the fraud, while Foster and Slack made a plea deal and were sentenced to home detention.

After being found guilty by a jury of deception and forgery, Ross was sentenced to four years and four months' imprisonment, while Wehipeihana was jailed for four years and three months.


In a letter to the court, Ross characterised the fraud as "cutting corners".

Wehipeihana has not appealed his sentence.

Ross' lawyer, Rachael Reed QC, had also criticised Justice Edwards' reliance on the case of Auckland property developer Kang Huang "to be the most comparable".

Huang had bribed a banker and used friends, family, staff and fake names to gain more than $50m worth of fake mortgages.

"We accept that there are differences between Mr Ross' offending and that of Mr Huang. For example, Huang involved more money, more victims and resulted in a quantifiable loss," the Court of Appeal judges said.

"Those differences do not mean, however, that Huang is not a comparable case when setting the starting point for Mr Ross. Both cases involved elaborate deceptions upon financial institutions to facilitate property development with the aim of making substantial profits."


While the Court of Appeal judges accepted Ross had in all other respects been a worthwhile member of society it was essential for the courts to denounce his type of offending.

"Mr Ross enjoyed a privileged position in his community and embarked upon an elaborate and sophisticated large-scale deception in the expectation that he would profit significantly from his offending."

Ross was unlikely to reoffend, the judges said, and "any period of imprisonment will be a salutary lesson".