One of the "professional" thieves who stole the Waiouru war medals was on bail after using stolen priceless artefacts, including a Goldie painting and Colin McCahon poems, as bargaining chips to get out of jail.

Before stealing the military treasures, Ronald Van Wakeren was facing serious fraud charges over a $180,000 bank scam.

But three of the four charges were dropped by police after he arranged the safe return of a 1920s Goldie portrait, a copy of an Oxford Lectern Bible and a set of seven Colin McCahon poems.

The artefacts were stolen from the University of Auckland library during the 2007 Christmas holidays.

Van Wakeren said he was not involved in the theft but had learned who took the items and where they were. He used the charges he faced as a bargaining ploy - one that police eventually accepted.

Van Wakeren also used the Goldie deal to get bail on the remaining charge he faced - and used his freedom to commit the medals heist.

Three days after stealing the medals, he was sentenced on the fraud charge and received a further nine-month discount from a reluctant Judge Phil Gittos for his assistance in returning the artefacts.

"I am by no means wishing to give any indication to you or anybody else, that those who go out and steal items of significant heritage value like that, can then use them as some sort of ransom tool," said the judge.

Which is exactly what Van Wakeren and James Joseph Kapa did when they stole the 96 military medals and pocketed a $200,000 reward for their safe return.

Kapa was yesterday jailed for six years for his role in breaking into the museum and stealing the medals, including the Victoria Cross and bar won by New Zealand's most highly decorated soldier, Charles Upham.

He will serve the sentence on top of a 5year sentence being served for other crimes.

Judge Graham Hubble, in Auckland District Court, told Kapa the sentence showed him that he should not "meddle with New Zealand icons".

Kapa wiped tears away as Judge Hubble told the court of his history of 179 previous convictions.

Crown prosecutor Deb Bell told the court Kapa was a "professional and prolific" career criminal.

During an emotional address to the court, the director of the museum, retired Colonel Ray Seymour, said the theft had "torn the heart out of all New Zealanders".

Amanda Upham, daughter of Charles Upham, said the sentencing had given her closure. She and her family had not received an apology from Kapa and did not expect one.

Kapa and Van Wakeren have been friends for more than 20 years since their teenage years at Rutherford High School in West Auckland.

Both have been pulling scams since leaving school in the late 80s.

Herald archives show Van Wakeren was charged with forgery and stealing cars in 1990, Kapa faced forgery charges in 1989. That was only the start.

Nicknamed "V Dub", Van Wakeren has amassed 242 convictions for burglaries and frauds, including an estimated $1.8 million in mortgage frauds.

Much of that stolen money has never been recovered and is believed to have gone overseas.

He is now serving an 11-year sentence, described by his lawyers as the longest imposed in New Zealand for burglary and fraud.

He earned his time for a four-year spree from 2003 to 2007 that sparked four major police operations codenamed Pokie, Kea, Prince and Valour - the medals theft.

Kapa was his partner in crime in all but Operation Kea.

Kapa is known as "Kapa QC" because of bush lawyer skills, which he shares with other inmates planning their defence.

He had 179 previous dishonesty convictions.

Their sophistication and calculated planning led to the brazen heist on what Judge Hubble described as priceless New Zealand icons.