A former manager of the organisation which cares for the Waitangi Treaty Grounds has been jailed for stealing $1.2 million to fund his lavish lifestyle of luxury clothing, travel and cosmetic surgery.
Wallace Tamamotu Te Ahuru, 31, was sentenced today in the Papakura District Court.
He had earlier pleaded guilty to two charges of obtaining by deception and seven charges of using forged documents, all brought by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
The former manager of the Waitangi National Trust, which is responsible for the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, was jailed for three years and eight months.
The SFO believed he was acting alone in his fraud.
Te Ahuru was employed as the corporate services manager of the trust between September 2012 and June 2016 where he was responsible for all financial administration.
From June 2016 to October 2017 he was then the corporate services manager of Waitangi Limited and responsible for all financial administration of the Waitangi National Trust Group.
On social media, however, he known by a different title - "Wallace the Tory".
Between June 2016 to September 2017, Te Ahuru processed 43 payments which were paid into his personal accounts, court documents obtained by the Herald reveal.
The total amount he stole reached $1,221,268.84.
Forty-one of the payments were made online from a trust bank account and were authorised by Te Ahuru using his own and a former employee's credentials.
Two payments were made from a Waitangi Limited bank account and were authorised by another employee, who unwittingly relied on two forged invoices seemingly from legitimate vendors.
Te Ahuru's ruse then grew more elaborate as he attempted to cover his financial tracks.
To disguise the payments he manipulated all the transactions in a Xero payment system, making it appear as thought the funds were being processed to legitimate vendors.
Te Ahuru would also code the payee of each transaction as a trust vendor and assigned the expenses to several of the trust's cost centres, such as stationary, furniture and fittings, plant and equipment, and museum and education.
He further used the account credentials of a colleague, who was on sick leave at the time, in an attempt to bluff his way through the fraud.
Neither the chief executive, Greg McManus, nor members of the trust's board knew of the payments going directly to Te Ahuru.
He used the money to fund his extravagant lifestyle.
Travel, accommodation, luxury clothing and accessories, vehicles, adult entertainment, gambling and even cosmetic surgery were paid for with the stolen funds.
Online he posted pictures of him drinking champagne, playing croquet and even dining with former Prime Minister Sir John Key.
Te Ahuru had started his career at the Rotorua Museum as a teenager and worked there for eight years.
In his victim impact statement, McManus said he has known Te Ahuru since 2005 when he first employed him at Rotorua Museum.
"When I moved to Waitangi in 2012 I asked Wallace to join me," he said.
"He became a close personal and family friend, he looked after our house when we were away, and he spent three Christmas Days with our family during his time there."
When McManus was told Te Ahuru was suspected of carrying out a major fraud against the trust he "did not believe it".
"I thought there must have been a mistake," he said.
"However once it was made clear to me that it was not a mistake I was completely shocked and devastated."
He said in the 12 years of knowing Te Ahuru he "grew to have complete trust in him" and had referred to him as "the least corruptible person I knew".
"He established himself in the minds of management, staff, trustees and directors as a totally dependable, hard working and honest employee. I never heard anybody at Waitangi question his integrity or the quality of his work," he said.
"It is from this position of universal trust and respect that Wallace perpetrated a massive premeditated and calculated fraud ... that has left both organisations on the brink of financial ruin and caused untold damage to individuals and groups of people, including staff, management, directors, and trustees."
McManus said the crimes have damaged the reputation of Waitangi in the minds of the local community, the general public of New Zealand, and the Government and opposition in Parliament.
After the fraud came to light, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones also called for a restructure of the trust before he handed over cash for a new museum.
"The impact of Wallace's offending on Waitangi National Trust and Waitangi Limited cannot be overstated," McManus said.
"As a small non-profit charitable trust which receives no public funding for operational purposes, making the books balance is a massive challenge each and every year. The money Wallace stole was pretty much the sum total of our cash reserves."
Because Te Ahuru was so intimately involved in the setting up of financial systems and the management of cash flows, McManus explained, nobody could have known better than him what impact a loss of $1.2m would have.
"He would have known that cash flows in the years after he left would be negatively affected to the point where the organisation would be in danger of insolvency," McManus said.
"… all the time looking everyone, myself, directors, trustees and colleagues, straight in the eye and providing false financial information and allowing financial decisions to be made using money he knew did not exist any more, because he had stolen and spent it on his lavish personal lifestyle."
When the fraud - "an enormous hole in our cash reserves" - was found, McManus said the trust had no choice but to drastically cut back on seasonal staff.
"… it was not a pleasant place to be for many of us. We are still recovering from this period but the effects on some will be permanent," he said.
When Te Ahuru appeared on TV as he entered court before pleading guilty, McManus said it was obvious to anybody who knew him that it was simply a performance for the cameras.
"There was absolutely no remorse," McManus said.
"I think his true character was evident for all to see that day and as someone who thought he knew him it was shocking to witness."
The level of deceit and premeditation involved in the offending was staggering, McManus said.
"To be able to carry on such a sophisticated and premeditated fraud, and to be able to cover his tracks to the extent that he fooled myself, the boards of Waitangi Limited and Waitangi National Trust, and the external auditors for such an extended period, shows the determination and cold calculation that is frightening," he said.
The director of the SFO Julie Read said Te Ahuru's offending had a significant impact on his former colleagues, many of whom had treated him like a family member.
"His selfish actions have caused them stress and shame, and they must now work to rebuild the finances and reputation of the trust," she said.
"This case is a timely reminder to all organisations about the importance of having robust internal controls."