An Auckland man has been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison after a travel scam which targeted elderly Chinese.
Paul Swney, 46, appeared at Auckland District Court today for sentencing on 28 fraud-related charges totalling more than $125,000.
The charges included 17 brought by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) relating to benefit fraud totalling $85,000, and nine of obtaining by deception and two of using forged documents relating to the travel scam.
Swney pleaded guilty on May 22, 2014.
Judge Grant Fraser said the travel scam was orchestrated under the guise of a heavily discounted, two-week trip to America and obtained Swney money largely from elderly Chinese victims.
The victims were told they would be staying at time-share properties and Swney went as far as creating a false Air New Zealand itinerary in a bid to validate the scam.
An innocent travel agent was used by Swney to liaise with and attract other Chinese victims and she also became an unwitting victim, Judge Fraser said.
Through the ruse, which took place over three months in 2011, Swney obtained around $41,500 from various individuals and their families, he said.
After he was caught, Swney portrayed himself as a victim and sought to lay blame with others, claiming the money had gone offshore to unnamed parties, Judge Fraser said.
"The other concerning aspect is the comments again that your life has been destroyed as you cannot travel freely," he said.
However, the blame could not be shifted, Judge Fraser said.
"You are the one who engaged in this offending. The ruse was all of your making," he said.
Swney had claimed to not know that elderly victims were involved, which Judge Fraser said was surprising given the travel documents involved.
Swney stood in the dock, red-faced and looking bewildered as Judge Fraser addressed him. He was supported in court by his wife and sister.
The impact on the victims was significant, and "the offending is what I would describe is brazen to say the least." he said.
Swney's "egregious" benefit fraud occurred over a long period of time and ripped off hard-working taxpayers, Judge Fraser said.
Starting from a point of four years' imprisonment, Judge Fraser gave Swney credit for his guilty plea, attendance at restorative justice sessions, lack of previous convictions and "the remorse I think you're expressing".
In delivering a final sentence of two years' and seven months' imprisonment, Judge Fraser said he had to take account of the significant harm Swney's scam had caused to its numerous victims.
He also ordered Swney to pay $3250 in reparation to be paid at $50 per week, which would be split between the MSD and the victims of the travel scam.
"That in no way sees a reparation for the victims, but I'm driven by what I see is the reality here," Judge Fraser said.
Swney's lawyer Richard Slade said his client was incredibly remorseful.