A former trustee who stole more than $1 million from a Far North Māori fund and lied to the Māori Land Court will remain in prison despite a first display of repentance for his victims, whānau and hapu.
Stephen Henare, along with his sister Margaret Dixon, virtually bled the Parengarenga 3G (P3G) Trust dry to feed a gambling habit and life of indulgence, including a corporate box at rugby league games.
Both were prosecuted by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) after P3G's cash assets in August 2012 were drained from about $1.08m to just $13.41 by January 2014. Henare and Dixon were appointed trustees of P3G, which helped underprivileged people and managed a large forest on Māori land in Tai Tokerau District, alongside five other people in June 2012.
Dixon admitted her part in the scheme and was sentenced to home detention, however, her sibling defended the allegations. But Henare's resistance broke on day four of the High Court trial in May 2019 when he pleaded guilty to five charges of theft by a person in a special relationship and perverting the course of justice.
He was later sentenced to five years and two months' imprisonment by Justice Matthew Muir, a term he unsuccessfully challenged up to the Supreme Court, where he sought an appeal by citing the effect of whakamā (a form of cultural shame).
Now, Henare has been denied an early release from prison after his first appearance before the Parole Board last month.
In its decision, released to the Herald, the board noted Henare acknowledged responsibility for his offending and was repentant and remorseful to his victims, including his whānau and hapu.
"He was also sorry for the loss of mana suffered by others as a result of what he did."
It was a turnaround from an earlier Department of Corrections' report which said despite his guilty plea, Henare maintained he fulfilled his obligations as a trustee and did not steal PG3's funds.
Justice Muir also said Henare harboured a sense of entitlement for the trust's property and profits it generated when claiming it had been "illegally taken from his grandmother and others".
The minimum security prisoner, who spent much of the money he stole on gambling through the casino and at the TAB, has worked with the Problem Gambling Foundation and completed six sessions with a counsellor, the board's report reads.
But the parole panel remained sceptical.
"... his response to questions associated with risk did not reflect the essence of a safety plan that the board considers sufficient in his case. He said he has banned himself from the casino, but the board is not satisfied that Mr Henare has developed a plan that adequately identifies his risk situations, the warning signs which both he and his whanau would be aware of if he were to return to offending, and finally his strategies to deal with those issues."
The board said until an adequate safety plan is completed and presented to his supporters at a facilitated hui, it could not be satisfied his release would not pose an undue risk to the safety of the community.
Henare will next appear before the board by the end of August, while his statutory release date is October 27, 2024.
Henare and Dixon's crimes had a devastating financial, social and emotional impact on the 400 current and future beneficial owners of P3G, which could no longer afford to maintain its forests.
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 perverted the course of justice by lying when asked about the health of the trust's account, claiming there was just under $1m in the accounts.
Seemingly without a second thought he went on to steal the remaining $400,000.
Both Henare and Dixon were eventually removed as trustees of P3G.