Garth McVicar admits he "failed dismally" with a plan to keep under wraps the departure of a Sensible Sentencing Trust board member after a financial investigation exposed debt and questions over business practices.
Documents obtained by the NZ Herald show McVicar drafted two press releases to explain the departure of Scott Guthrie, until recently a high-profile spokesman for the Trust. The press releases gave completely different perspective for the departure.
A NZ Herald investigation into Guthrie's financial dealings show he is facing questions over a company he is alleged to have helped set up while bankrupt and is accused of racking up debts which left a Manawatu solo-mother in bankruptcy.
Documents obtained by the NZ Herald show the Trust appears to have discovered the same financial issues - including two company liquidations owing around $200,000 - during an internal inquiry which led to Guthrie's departure last month.
• Andrew Little on SST - leaders 'loopy' and 'callous'
• Justice path and bulging prisons - will NZ listen to scientist or sceptic?
• Sensible Sentencing Trust's David Garrett's claims 'tough on crime' works
• The 'mistake' receipt and tax concerns over Sensible Sentencing's trusts
Anticipating media interest, documents show McVicar drafted two press releases to deal with questions over Guthrie's exit.
In one press release, McVicar praised Guthrie's "dedication and commitment" to the Trust and wished him well in his new role advocating for better rehabilitation services.
He emailed the press release to Guthrie on May 15 and said it would be used only "if the media come fishing".
In the email, he told Guthrie "the best we can both do at present is keep our heads down and mouths shut".
The other press release was distributed on Friday after Guthrie publicly criticised the Trust.
In that press release, McVicar claimed the Trust had sacked Guthrie and he had been "removed from all his roles with the Trust" because of allegations over "business practices".
It stated "there was a great deal in Mr Guthrie's financial past of which the Trust was unaware, and that he was not in fact a fit and proper person to be representing the Trust or dealing with victims of crime".
Guthrie's sacking and McVicar's efforts to keep it quiet came after small business owner Jo Kirk told the NZ Herald she spent more than a year trying to recover $667 owed for workplace drug testing equipment.
Guthrie had taken the equipment on credit on behalf of a company called Drug Detection Services Ltd, which he had helped set up in 2015.
Kirk said Guthrie's references to his role with the Sensible Sentencing Trust had given her the confidence to provide the equipment without carrying out a credit check.
She said Guthrie's Sensible Sentencing Trust role made him someone she felt she could trust.
A credit check would have revealed Guthrie was part way through the second of his two bankruptcies, had two companies in liquidation and - because of the bankruptcy - was barred from being a director or managing any other company.
After failing to get Guthrie to pay the $667, Kirk wrote to the Trust asking it to take action.
The Trust - aware of Guthrie's financial history - was also told Drug Detection Services Ltd had been set up by Guthrie while he was bankrupt.
Companies Office documents showed Feilding's Joanne Pinfold was the original director and shareholder of the company in 2015. Guthrie, whose bankruptcy expired in June 2016, is listed as the person who submitted all company documents to the Companies Office by Guthrie.
Pinfold told the NZ Herald she had put her name on the forms at Guthrie's urging because he was barred by law from being a company director because he was a bankrupt.
Documents also show that a few months after the bankruptcy ended in June 2016, Guthrie added his name as a director and shareholder.
In September 2017, Pinfold said a debt collector turned up looking for the Mitsubishi Airtrek car Guthrie was driving.
"This was the first I knew that things were not good," she said.
Companies Office documents show Guthrie was briefly a director of Drug Detection Services Ltd.
Pinfold, a single mother of three, said she took legal advice over the debts and went bankrupt shortly after.
Documents obtained by the NZ Herald show McVicar put Guthrie on "stand down" from the Trust at the beginning of May after being contacted by Kirk.
He then had the lobby group's lawyer, former Act MP David Garrett, carry out an investigation.
A week later, Garrett wrote to Kirk and Pinfold - copying in McVicar and others involved in running the Trust.
He said it was "virtually 100% certain that he will be removed from all his roles with SST".
Garrett quoted McVicar as saying "his goose is already cooked" but explained the Trust had to follow its natural justice process by having a hearing.
Garrett also wrote to Guthrie demanding answers, saying "you may have done a great deal of damage to the SST 'brand' – possibly irreparable harm".
He told him to "leave Garth alone at this difficult time for him". "You will gain nothing – except perhaps his annoyance – by making a personal appeal to him."
On May 14, Kirk and Pinfold were told Guthrie had been sacked from the Trust. In emails over the next month, Kirk repeatedly asked McVicar if - as he had agreed - media had been told Guthrie was sacked.
She told the NZ Herald that McVicar had agreed to a press release explaining the reasons for the sacking because of her concerns over Guthrie's business dealings with others.
In emails between Kirk and McVicar, the Trust founder assured her "selected media" had been informed about Guthrie's departure.
Instead, documents show he wrote the press release praising Guthrie's "commitment" and sent it to the sacked board member urging silence.
Metadata in the Word document shows the statement was written on McVicar's computer.
In the email to Guthrie, McVicar said the statement was "attached for your perusal" and invited "your thoughts and edits".
McVicar wrote: "I stress … this statement will ONLY be released if the media coming fishing … the best we can both do at present is keep our heads down and mouths shut."
The statement included a quote from McVicar which said: "Scott has worked tirelessly for SST and his dedication and commitment will be sadly missed but we understand his passion and wish him well with his future endeavours."
The statement was never released and Kirk, when supplied a copy by the NZ Herald, said it was contrary to the assurances McVicar had given.
McVicar told the NZ Herald that two press releases were written at the same time.
He said the press release sent to Guthrie was because he wanted to "try and negotiate an amicable parting and avoid the fallout for all concerned".
He said he wanted to allow Guthrie to "retain some dignity".
"I failed dismally and admit that."
McVicar confirmed no media were told of Guthrie's departure from the Trust, contrary to his assurances to Kirk. In emails, he told Kirk he believed Guthrie would be informing media, although previous emails from him stated the Trust would do so.
Guthrie denied getting Pinfold to set up the company, saying it was her idea and he only became involved in management after his bankruptcy expired.
He did say he had done the testing for the company, used a car bought on finance through the company and wasn't responsible for much of its debt.
But he did acknowledge the $667 debt to Kirk, his bankruptcies and company liquidations.
"I'm not trying to make this go away."
Guthrie admitted the focus on his business dealing could impact on his efforts to launch the new Transforming Justice Foundation, through which he was planning to meet Minister of Justice Andrew Little over the next fortnight.
The Foundation was focused on lowering crime and imprisonment rates through better rehabilitation and improved schemes for easing prisoners back into the community.
"I've got some good ideas and politicians are interested in them," he said. "There's no financials going into it. It's all about policy changing."
Guthrie said he couldn't understand why McVicar had released an alternative statement focused on his business past when the pair had agreed on the other statement which praised his involvement with the Trust.
"It's not a good look for McVicar. He probably wanted to try and keep me on board."