A former police officer has been sentenced to three years and 8 months imprisonment for stealing more than $480,000 from a trust he was in charge of.
Shaun Joseph Keenan had earlier pleaded guilty to 46 charges relating to theft totalling $486,045,71 from the Ngāti Te Whiti Whenua Topu Trust.
Keenan appeared in New Plymouth District Court today before Judge Garry Barkle.
Today, Keenan was sentenced on 46 theft-related offences including 36 charges of theft by person in special relationship, six charges of forging a cheque valued at over $500, and four charges of obtaining funds over $1000 by deception.
The court heard from several victims of Keenan's offending, with victim impact statements being read out loud in court for more than an hour.
While some victims addressed the judge, others turned around and spoke directly to Keenan while he was in the dock.
Siobhan Lynch, a registered beneficiary of the hapū, spoke directly to Keenan, saying "my association with you has been nothing short of an emotional rollercoaster".
"Shaun Keenan, we have no marae. I don't want you to forget it. But, I forgive you."
Speaking after the sentencing, Lynch said she was content with the judge's ruling, although she felt no dollar amount, or term of imprisonment could truly cover the level of hurt and distrust caused.
Another person to give a victim impact statement was Liana Poutu, chairwoman of the Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa Trust.
She also spoke directly to Keenan, and at one point, stated she wanted to give a message to his daughters.
She said the trust wanted his daughters to know they remain whanau, and it was important the trust acknowledged them as such.
They were innocent of Keenan's crimes, she said, but would feel the ongoing effects of his decisions.
In sentencing Keenan, Justice Barkle said he took into consideration various factors.
To Keenan's credit, he said, was a previous good character, supported by letters presented to the court from Keenan's wife, employer, a teacher and the principal of a local school and others.
In reference to Keenan's wife, the judge said he accepted she had no prior knowledge of Keenan's offending.
He also recognised what he termed "the plight" of Keenan's young daughters, who as members of the hapū were also affected by Keenan's actions.
Justice Barkle noted Keenan was still well-regarded in the Stratford community and in his family.
He noted, however, he felt Keenan's remorse was limited, saying the pre-sentence report noted he had failed to express any remorse for his offending.
While he understood the legal legitimacy of Keenan having transferred all relationship property to his wife, the judge said the reality was Keenan had made no effort to make any repayment.
The court heard Keenan has taken what he termed as "informal loans" from the trust in order to repay debts he had with third-tier lenders. Those debts were such, the court heard, Keenan was now going to take steps to declare bankruptcy.
Judge Barkle said despite imminent bankruptcy, reparations should still be made to the trust, and as such, ordered a total amount of $75,000 to be paid to the trust once Keenan was out of prison and employed.
He noted the amount was not the full amount stolen, but rather a reasonable amount given legal constraints.
Defence lawyer Susan Hughes, QC, told the court Keenan had deceived his wife and children for six months, after losing his job with the trust.
Rather than tell them, she said, he pretended to go to work each day, not telling them he was no longer employed.
In sentencing Keenan, Justice Barkle told him while he may deny he was using stolen funds to finance a "lavish lifestyle," he was doubtless living beyond his means.
"The reality is the funds stolen maintained your lifestyle."
Keenan had been a police officer for more than 20 years before leaving the service in 2011.
In May 2018 Keenan pleaded guilty to dozens of theft-related charges amounting to $486,045.71 being taken, but pleaded not guilty to another eight charges.
At a court appearance in March this year the Crown withdrew 10 charges Keenan was facing, which left no contested charges on the table.
The offending took place between 2012 and 2017 while Keenan was chief executive of Ngāti Te Whiti Whenua Topu Trust, which was formed through the amalgamation of the Bayly Rd and Puke Ariki trusts.
Former Ngāti Te Whiti Whenua Topū trustee Peter Moeahu, who laid the complaint with police, said the theft had a tremendous impact on the trust.
"It placed us in a very precarious financial position and it engendered a great deal of mistrust between the trustees and our beneficiaries," Moeahu said.
"It led to a lot of recriminations amongst ourselves."
Moeahu said the missing money caused a great deal of angst among the trust beneficiaries which culminated in some beneficiaries occupying the trust's New Plymouth office.
While chief executive of Ngāti Te Whiti Whenua Topu Trust, Keenan was also project manager for the trust's $4.5m marae build until the project was scrapped in 2017 when the trail of missing money was discovered.
Moeahu said the marae was going to be built at New Plymouth's Ngamotu Beach and would've been the first marae for the hapū since settlers arrived.
"We were making reasonable process with it and we had involvement with the district council, regional council, Ministry for the Environment, and we had received funding from the TSB Bank community trust.
"We had architect plans and we were really moving forward with it."
A separate residential village which would've been built next to the marae had also been drawn up by architects.
"When we started the marae project we had $1 million in cash reserves, we had the land and the goodwill of the community to proceed with it.
"By the time I filed a complaint with the police we were actually broke, so much so that we couldn't afford to pay salaries to some of our staff."
Moeahu said the case was also brought before the Māori Land Court where it is still proceeding.
The hundreds of thousands stolen took a toll on Moeahu, who decided not to stand for re-election to the trust in 2018.
"I felt I had some responsibility for what had gone on in that I was a trustee during that time and even though I was the one who spotted the financial irregularities and I filed the complaint, I still felt a measure of responsibility."