A Northland man used his trusted position in the community to prey on vulnerable young girls exchanging gifts, such as pet rabbits, cigarettes, chocolates, clothing and money in exchange for his sexual gratification and their silence, a jury has heard.

James Brian Sanders, 68, has denied 38 charges, including rape and indecent assault, allegedly committed against 13 complainants at Doubtless Bay and Bream Bay, south of Whangarei, between 1998 and 2013. Sanders faces 15 charges of indecent assault on a child aged between 12 and 16 years, one of indecent assault, three of rape, 15 of sexual conduct with a child under 12 years, two of sexual conduct with a young person under 16 and two of unlawful sexual connection.

Crown prosecutor Bernadette O'Connor yesterday told a jury of six men and six women it was when a 10-year-old girl told her mother in October 2013 that a man had been touching her private parts that a police investigation began.

Police found seven Far North girls had been abused by Sanders, who started up a relationship with them by tickling them, which progressed to touching them on the bottom then indecently assaulting them.


He had been running an after-school programme for children when the alleged offending occurred.

"To these girls he would give gifts like lollies, chocolates, icecream and to two girls he gave baby rabbits and another one a cellphone," Ms O'Connor said.

She said Sanders was bribing and grooming the girls for his own sexual gratification. As police continued their work they discovered six more girls who said they had been abused by Sanders when he lived south of Whangarei and while he was the president of the Bream Bay branch of the Latter Day Saints Church.

Through his work in the community he came into contact with girls from lower socioeconomic families, who were stressed or experiencing a breakdown, Ms O'Connor said. She said Sanders targeted poorer girls from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"He would pay some of them for their silence. The money he gave increased as the level of sexual contact increased."

One girl told police she wanted the money to buy food as her caregivers spent their money on alcohol and there was no food.

In a brief opening address, defence lawyer Chris Muston said his client denied any form of offending and told the jury to keep an open mind until they had heard all the evidence.

The trial is set down for three weeks before Judge Duncan Harvey.