A Kiwi fraudster who assumed the identity of a Tahitian prince has returned to the life he stole A$16 million ($16.7m) to escape – arriving late last night to the simple New Zealand country home he will share with his mother and other family members.
Hohepa Morehu-Barlow - known as Joel -, 44, was finally released from Queensland's Wolston Correctional Centre yesterday – more than three years after becoming eligible for parole.
Morehu-Barlow – who claimed to be a member of the Tahitian royal family – was jailed for 14 years for the "audacious" theft of millions of dollars from Queensland Health over four years. He told his mother in prison letters he wanted to "become someone … at any cost" after a childhood marred by domestic violence and poverty.
Morehu-Barlow was driven by Australian Border Force officers from Wolston Correctional Centre about 1pm yesterday to Brisbane Airport where he was escorted on to the 5.20pm Qantas flight to Auckland via a separate air bridge.
He had a window seat towards the rear of the plane, where he was penned in by two large ABF officers, and passed the time watching a movie.
• Kiwi fraudster who posed as fake Tahitian prince released on parole after serving half his sentence
• Kiwi-born fake Tahitian prince remains in Aussie prison two years after parole
• $16m fraudster's mum: Please let my son come home
• Kiwi 'Tahitian prince' lawyers argue for lighter sentence
Passengers on QF125 were given a choice of chicken tagine salad, steamed fish with jasmine rice or beef ragout with polenta mash and vegetables for dinner. For dessert, staff handed out Weis lemon myrtle frozen yoghurt bars.
Morehu-Barlow had lost his security detail by the time he arrived at the baggage carousel in Auckland, standing with his fellow passengers to wait for a silver suitcase and a striped bag.
He chatted with two New Zealand police officers before rushing to the carousel to collect one of his bags.
Then he disappeared down a hall where it is believed he filled out paperwork. He was expected to be reunited with his mother and a family friend.
He was due to return last night to Thames after the Australian Government cancelled his visa and deported him.
Morehu-Barlow pleaded guilty to five fraud and three drug offences in 2013 after siphoning off money meant for charity.
He used the money to fund an extravagant party lifestyle, buying a luxury waterfront home in the affluent Brisbane suburb New Farm and filling it with designer furniture and expensive art.
He had two Mercedes Benz cars, bought lavish gifts for friends and colleagues and threw parties with thousands of dollars' worth of liquor. He became a VIP at Brisbane's Louis Vuitton shop where staff would close the doors so he could shop in private.
"He told friends, acquaintances and work colleagues that his extravagant lifestyle resulted from him being a member of the Tahitian royal family, which gave him access to a trust fund," court documents state. "In some documents he gave his title as 'HRH'."
When the fraud was uncovered, authorities seized and catalogued his possessions and sold them at auction – among them a Louis Vuitton surfboard, a $25,000 case of Hennessy XO Cognac, Hermes garden tools and a $95,000 Bang & Olufsen TV.
The unsophisticated fraud was made worse by the revelation that Morehu-Barlow had lied about his university qualifications and had been convicted of fraud in New Zealand.
Morehu-Barlow appealed his sentence, arguing it was "manifestly excessive" given around A$12m ($12.5m) was able to be recovered through asset sales. This amount was reduced by costs, including legal and Public Trustee fees. The appeal was unsuccessful.
In letters to his mother, he said he had learned that his troubled upbringing was no different to many others.
"I know the most precious gift/item/things in life is not money, wealth, flash house or cars – it's people, particularly family," he wrote to his mother Andre. "I have truly accepted the consequences of my actions. I feel enlightened. I feel like an enormous weight has been lifted off my shoulders, a veil of secrecy removed. I can finally be honest with myself."
Morehu-Barlow was apologetic to his mother, apologising for the shame he had brought her and their family. He told her he'd wanted to "become someone … at any cost".
"I … wanted to prove everyone wrong, to become someone," he wrote. "I wanted the shame gone so bad that I wanted it at all cost or at any cost."
Morehu-Barlow was employed in finance at Queensland Health in 2005 but was promoted over the next five years based on his fake qualifications. His duties included certifying payments and approving claims.
He set up a fake company called Healthy Initiatives & Choices, using it to take grant and aid money.
He did this more than 50 times before taking A$11m ($11.4) at once – money that was supposed to pay for dental services at two north Queensland university campuses. He came undone soon after that when a complaint was made to police in December, 2011.