A Flaxmere pastor has been sentenced to home detention for lying to Immigration New Zealand for reasons he said were "for the love of God".
Faaofo Fomai and his church, Everlasting Gospel Church, appeared in the Hastings District Court for sentencing this morning after pleading guilty to four charges of providing false or misleading information to an immigration officer.
Judge Bridget Mackintosh sentenced the pastor, cited as the church's chairperson on the Charities Register, to six months' home detention and fined the church $2000 for one of the charges; convicting and discharging the entity of the remaining three.
Fomai first appeared in June this year after lying about the sponsorship form, salary and offer of employment for Samoan immigrant Uasi Siatulu, whom he brought to New Zealand in 2015 on the premise he would work as a youth pastor.
In September last year the Immigration and Protection Tribunal heard the father of five arrived with his family to find the church barely existed beyond the pastor and two couples.
On top of this he discovered he could not be paid as a youth pastor and would instead be working in an orchard to provide for his family.
He was served a Deportation Liability Notice after Immigration New Zealand declined his application to vary his work visa conditions so he could legally work as a seasonal orchard worker.
During this application process the fact he was not working as a youth pastor and in breach of his work conditions came to light. He unsuccessfully appealed the deportation notice.
His appeal requested that he and his family be able to stay in New Zealand as they had been "victims of the pastor".
The tribunal declined his appeal, finding his situation did not meet the exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian nature required to keep him in New Zealand.
Today Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment prosecutor Jodi Ongley submitted Fomai's offending was premeditated and that he had used his position in the community to commit it.
"Mr Fomai is a pillar of the community and he should be held to a higher standard than others."
She said while the Samoan family had not been recognised as victims of the pastor, the New Zealand community had suffered as a result of the offending.
Defence lawyer Cameron Willis said his client's overriding reason for the offending was not for profit, but to get a Samoan family into New Zealand.
He said Fomai was remorseful and was a citizen of good standing whose "character shines through".
The church, which had never been represented in court, remained unrepresented at the sentencing.
Judge Mackintosh accepted Fomai was remorseful and embarrassed, but added it was unknown what the end result would have been if the offending had not come to light.
"You are remorseful and it seems you stated you did it for the love of god and wanted to help people."
Fomai's home detention sentence will be served at a Hastings address while the $2000 fine was directed to be paid by members of the church.