A single mother of three who was arrested one month after high-end fashion designer Dame Trelise Cooper's Auckland headquarters was targeted in a $750,000 heist, says she, too, is a victim despite police having found some of the stolen items at her house.
"I'm quite a gullible person," Kathy Yu-Jen Stephens testified Wednesday afternoon as her trial started in the Auckland District Court. "I do believe what people tell me."
Stephens, who is a private investigator and former cake decorator, is charged with having received stolen goods.
During a search of her Onehunga home in November 2020 police located eight clothing items that had vanished in the burglary - including a parcel full of Trelise Cooper items that was set to be sent to Canada.
Last year, former television industry worker Nicholas James Bush pleaded guilty to the burglary of Cooper's Newmarket office, during which he forced open a service door after the premises had closed for the weekend and looted the designer's styling room.
Only a portion of the 2000 stolen items was ever recovered, and prosecutors acknowledged on Wednesday that the clothing found at Stephens' house amounted to only a small percentage of what Bush stole.
Stephens told jurors that Bush was a longtime friend of her ex-roommate but she knew him only in passing. She conceded it was strange when he randomly showed up at her door one evening in October 2020 with two suitcases full of designer clothing. But she felt sorry for him, she said, explaining that he had scratches on his face and said he had gotten in a fight with his girlfriend.
"He said, 'She kicked me out and I just grabbed these two suitcases and left,'" she explained, adding that he offered to sell her the clothes so that he could have enough cash to get a hotel room.
"Where the hell did you get all these?" she recalled asking him.
She recognised the Trelise Cooper brand, having already owned a fur coat by the designer.
"He said because he worked in the TV industry his ex-girlfriend had bought the sample range," she said.
That night she gave Bush $600. Later on, she would pay for his hotel rooms in exchange for items, she said.
She "got quite excited" about the clothes because her mother's 70th birthday was coming up and she hadn't yet had time to buy her a present, she said. The items that police would later find packaged and ready to send to Canada would have been a gift for her "shopaholic" auntie, who had always teased her that New Zealand wasn't worth visiting because it had no high-end shops, Stephens explained.
Stephens insisted while on the witness stand that she had no idea Trelise Cooper's headquarters had been burgled until the day police searched her home. As a single mother of three young boys she didn't have the "luxury of time" to follow the news, she said.
"He just seemed like a normal guy," Stephens said of Bush. "I just didn't even think something like that is possible - it didn't even cross my mind."
For Stephens to be found guilty of the alleged crime, prosecutors would have to prove that she either knew the items of clothing were stolen or she was reckless as to whether they were, turning a blind eye on purpose.
"It was obvious they came from a less-than-legitimate source," prosecutor Frances Gourlay said in her opening address on Wednesday, explaining that the "couture" label on the clothing would have made their high-fashion origins evident.
"It would be clear to anyone they were suspicious."
Defence lawyers Christina Halloway and Natasha Murden pointed out their client had no prior criminal record.
Police obtained a search warrant for the home after Bush listed it as his bail address. Stephens, however, said that Bush "tricked me" and that he never actually lived there.
The trial got off to a late start on Wednesday because a courthouse security officer tested positive for Covid-19, Judge Brooke Gibson told jurors before witnesses were called.
Stephens is expected to continue her testimony on Thursday.