Disgraced Waipawa accountant Warren David Bruce Pickett was yesterday sentenced to five years' jail for a quarter-century of deception that led to losses totalling at least $18 million.
In Napier District Court, Judge Bridget Mackintosh ordered the 63-year-old hitherto pillar of Central Hawke's Bay society to serve a minimum non-parole period of three years and four months.
She gave weight to his guilty pleas and co-operation with a prosecution instigated when he called the Serious Fraud Office last August and admitted stealing from Waipawa Finance and Waipawa Holdings to cover losses accumulated since the 1980s.
He was sole director and principal shareholder of the two companies, the liquidation of which had been the first notion many investors had had of their losses.
He admitted eight charges, including three of misappropriating investors' funds totalling about $3.7 million.
He was a former school boards chairman, a senior rugby coach, and honorary accountant and auditor to many organisations in more than 30 years of public service.
About a dozen of his 220 victims, many left bereft of life savings, looked on solemnly and quietly, apart from a chortle or two when defence counsel Jonathan Krebs, of Napier, asked the judge to take into consideration Pickett's state of health.
Outside afterwards, they conceded it was a form of ``closure', but the reality was expressed by former Waipukurau construction company owner John Hands, who along with wife, Kathy, lost $312,000 intended to help finance an organ transplant for their grand-daughter in the United States.
He first met Pickett in 1973. They belonged to the Waipukurau and Waipawa chapters of Jaycees and were not close friends ``as such,' but the Hands had come to put their trust in Pickett to protect what was some of their funds.
Yesterday there was no doubting the investors' feelings of betrayal as Mr Hands answered questions of whether the sentence was adequate.
``I don't think it was enough,' he said. ``He got off lightly.'
They were far from being the most severely hit victims - a Norfolk Island couple is reported to have lost $5 million as a result of Pickett's attempts to recover lost ground after investments went bad in the 1980s.
SFO chief prosecutor Anita Killeen said that ``legally speak ing' the sentence was ``high'.
But Ms Killeen said she appreciated the views and positions of the victims.
In a rare move, particularly for an offender with no previous convictions, Judge Mackintosh set the starting point at nine-and-a-half years, deducted one-third for guilty pleas and co-operation with the investigation, and further consideration for Pickett's previous good character and lack of a criminal record.
It was, however, noted his service to a wide range of organisations reinforced the people's trust in him, which the judge said was breached in a ``gross' way that had ``irrevocably changed' the lives of many.
Mr Krebs told Judge Mackintosh Pickett lived in hope, '`trying to get off the back of the tiger', and believing a ``miracle would occur'.
The judge likened his hopes to waiting for a windfall in Lotto.
As well as the three charges of misusing investors' money, Pickett admitted three of making false statements as a promoter of investment schemes, and two of offering securities without a registered prospectus.