A former trustee who helped drain $1 million from a fund to help underprivileged people in an effort to sustain his gambling and indulgent lifestyle will be released from prison.
Stephen Henare, along with his sister Margaret Dixon, stole from the Parengarenga 3G (P3G) Trust — spending the money on themselves — after being appointed trustees alongside five others in June 2012.
The siblings were both prosecuted by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) after the Far North Māori fund's cash assets were found to be used for personal benefit, including a corporate box at rugby league games.
The trust was so severely depleted that the August 2012 balance of about $1.08m was whittled down to just $13.41 by January 2014.
Henare pleaded guilty to five charges of theft by a person in a special relationship and perverting the course of justice — for lying to the Māori Land Court — four days into his High Court trial in 2019. He was sentenced in August that year to five years and two months' imprisonment, which he unsuccessfully sought to appeal to the Supreme Court.
However, Henare will soon be released from prison.
After a hearing on August 12, the Parole Board decided to grant allow Henare to return to the community on September 21. He had been denied parole earlier this year at his first appearance but had shown his first signs of genuine remorse.
In this month's report, released to the Herald, the board said Henare has been employed as a painter and had been working outside the wire while serving his sentence.
A whānau hui had also taken place where he was able to share his safety plan, while Henare was described as "making good progress".
The report added it has been patently clear the offending has had a significant impact on Henare's whānau and the wider community.
"Our job as a board is to objectively assess whether Mr Henare poses an undue risk to the community. At the present time, he has completed the only rehabilitative programme available to him which related to gambling. He is on the reintegrative phase of his sentence. No other rehabilitation will be offered. He has strong family support. He has suitable accommodation to go to.
"On that basis, the board is bound to determine that Mr Henare does not pose an undue
risk to the community."
As part of his release conditions, Henare was told he could no longer be involved in the handling of money, provision of advice or management of the financial accounts or transactions, of any person or entity, without prior written approval of a probation officer.
A ban on engaging in any employment or roles in the affairs of any business, trust, company or other entity, without the same approval from a probation officer was also implemented.
And Henare was ordered not to engage in any betting or gambling either directly or indirectly.
Henare and Dixon's crimes had a devastating financial, social and emotional impact on the hundreds of current and future beneficial owners of P3G. The trust could also no longer afford to maintain its forests, including a large block on Māori land in Tai Tokerau District.
The problems plaguing P3G had been taken to the Māori Land Court in January 2013 after an application was made by one of the trustees to remove Henare from his position.
But at the court hearing Henare simply lied and perverted the course of justice when asked about the health of the trust's account, claiming there was just under $1m in the accounts. He then went on to steal the remaining $400,000.
Both Henare and Dixon, who pleaded guilty to three representative charges of theft by person in a special relationship and was sentenced to 12 months' home detention, were eventually removed as trustees of P3G.