A man who stole medals worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Waiouru Army Museum has been jailed for three years.
Keith Davies, 57, had pleaded guilty to seven charges of theft as a servant, obtaining by deception, false pretences and theft.
Wellington District Court judge Bruce Davidson today (Fri) sentenced him to three years jail and ordered him to pay $50,000 reparation for the thefts, which happened while Davies was the museum's registrar.
He took a total of 750 medals worth $236,515. More than 300 are still missing.
He sold 131 of the medals, reaping $66,000, and a further 287 were found in his possession in Australia, where he had lived for the past few years.
Crown prosecutor Lance Rowe said Davies had been responsible for the safe storage of the medals at the museum. He had a high level of security clearance, enabling him to alter records to cover his offending _ which went undiscovered for eight years after he had left the museum.
"The value of the items stolen isn't only in monetary terms,'' Mr Rowe said.
The greatest effect was on the trust of the people who donated medals and other artefacts to the museum for the benefit of the cultural history of New Zealand.
Davies had a previously good character but that could not be offered as a reason to reduce his sentence as he had traded on it to carry out his offending.
Defence lawyer Greg King said Davies had spent 30 years in the army but his active career ended when he was bitten by an insect in Fiji in the 1990s and suffered a debilitating illness.
However, he was "acutely knowledgeable'' on New Zealand's military history and secured the museum job.
"Unfortunately it all comes to nought when one is in the public eye being sentenced for this type of offending,'' Mr King said.
Davies retained the support of his wife and children and was "profoundly remorseful, he said.
Judge Davidson said he had received 20 victim impact statements which showed "disgust and outrage'' from the families whose medals were stolen.
"How Mr Davies can ever justify his reprehensible actions ... is beyond belief,'' he quoted from one.
"Our family will never forgive him. How do you replace the irreplaceable.''
Davies had suffered tragedy in his life with the death of one of this five children in the past 10 years, as well as losing two of his 10 grandchildren, Judge Davidson said.
He was highly regarded by many as a man of high calibre, and they regarded the offending as out of character.
Judge Davidson accepted Davies' deep remorse, and gave him credit for that and his early guilty pleas.
"(But) this was gross, wholesale and ongoing abuse of trust,'' he said.
"Your offending was premeditated, ongoing, organised.
"There really is no comparable case that I know of.''
Judge Davidson sentenced Davies to three years jail and ordered him to pay $50,000 reparation within seven days.
Outside the court, Returned and Services Association national vice president David Moloney said the sentence was fair.
"I wouldn't have thought any more _ once you go to prison at his age, that's a real sentence,'' he said.
"He was a serving soldier and I think the point that I would like to make is the thing about serving in the military is that you require the trust of everyone around you in every sense.
"He let that trust go and I think we have learned now that we have to be more careful how we operate.''
National Army Museum director Colonel (Rtd) Ray Seymour said he was hoping for a harsher sentence but "I'm not going to lose any more sleep over it''
However, he vowed to get back all the outstanding medals.
Pictures of all those still unaccounted for would be posted on the museum's website, www.armymuseum.co.nz and "I hope that the media of the world pick it up and those medals are returned''.
"As a director of the National Army Museum, it's my aim that every medal that was stolen by Davies out of this museum will be returned,'' he said.
"It might not be tomorrow but, by golly, that'll be what I'm aiming for. They'll be returned, wherever they might be.''
Investigation head Detective Senior Sergeant Keith Borrell said he was pleased with the result, which was the culmination of 14 months work from the police, the army and the Australian Federal Police.