A former finance executive has been caught stealing rabbits from Auckland's suburban backyards late at night.

The Herald on Sunday can also reveal he is the same businessman who was jailed and later acquitted in Australia for what was described as "one of the worst case scenarios of aggravated cruelty to animals".

Now Fergus Rebel McMahon, 51, will be monitored by authorities and kept on a nightly curfew in an attempt to prevent the bizarre offending from occurring again.

His New Zealand case, which the Herald on Sunday can report today after fighting a legal battle to lift a more than two-year blanket suppression order, began in 2016 when at least 15 rabbits went missing from their huts and cages around Auckland.

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Police released CCTV footage of one of the thefts in September that year in the hope the public could help them find the bunny thief.

When officers caught up with the offender they didn't imagine he would be the director of a finance firm.

They also could hardly have imagined he was the same man as Brendan Francis McMahon, the person responsible for what a Sydney magistrate called "one of the worst case(s)" of aggravated animal cruelty in Australia.

Police released this CCTV image of a man stealing rabbits in 2016. Photo / Supplied
Police released this CCTV image of a man stealing rabbits in 2016. Photo / Supplied

During the mid-2000s, McMahon was arrested after dead or dying animals - some of which had been skinned - were found in and around his downtown Sydney office.

At the time McMahon helped to manage Meares-McMahon Capital, a financial planning and mortgage brokerage, with Jason Meares, the brother of Australian model and fashion designer Jodhi Meares.

The allegations against McMahon included the torture and mutilation of 17 rabbits and a guinea pig.

He also faced a charge of bestiality, but this was later withdrawn.

McMahon was jailed for 16 months in July 2006 but the New Zealand-born man's Australian convictions were later quashed on appeal due to mental illness, which was triggered in-part by his drug use but continued after he stopped using.

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After McMahon returned to Auckland he changed his name from Brendan to Fergus as he resumed his finance career.

He eventually began working as the director of project finance at Property Finance Partners in 2016, according to his LinkedIn page and a now removed bio on the company website.

But he relapsed and began to use drugs again, while his predilection for rabbits also returned.

McMahon started contacting the owners of rabbits, who were either breeding or selling them, online.

Then, late at night, he would sneak on to their property to take the animals from cages and hutches.

He did this to eight victims over an 18-month period as 22 separate properties across Auckland were burgled.

Can you help us identify this bunny burglar? 15 rabbits have been stolen from breeders in Auckland's Mt Albert, Blockhouse Bay and Massey over the past three weeks. CCTV footage from the latest burglary in Mt Albert around 5am on Saturday 10 September shows the offender in action on the property. If you have information about the person identified in the CCTV footage or knows about the rabbit thefts, please contact Avondale Police on 09 820 5623 email ldbn11@police.govt.nz. You can also provide information anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Posted by Auckland City District Police on Wednesday, 14 September 2016

One pet owner told the Herald on Sunday of the night McMahon came to her Blockhouse Bay home just before Labour weekend 2016.

"I heard this human noise from my window at one o'clock in the morning or something and the thought crossed my mind – bunny burglar?"

But she dismissed the idea because she wasn't a breeder.

"Then I heard the squealing of my rabbits," she recalled. "I woke my partner up after I heard the squealing. I didn't even know rabbits squealed, it was just awful."

McMahon stole four rabbits that night, including Boomba and Lizzy.

A rabbit named Lucky survived the ordeal.

"My partner ran out the front and he actually saw someone walking on the other side of the road, really slowly, casually, up the road, at this strange hour of the morning," she said.

Down a nearby street, sitting in a car, was McMahon and his car registration was noted.

"[The police] came straight away, which we knew was something a bit weird as well, for them to come so quickly for rabbits," she said.

"It's changed who I am as a person. It's one thing to have your animals die but to think that he outright stole them."

Lily the stolen Netherland Dwarf. Photo / Supplied
Lily the stolen Netherland Dwarf. Photo / Supplied

"You stole rabbits," Judge Ema Aitken said, when sentencing McMahon in the Auckland District Court in May this year.

McMahon insisted he released the stolen animals into the wild, believing in his mind he was liberating them from their hutches or the possession of their owners.

But the court also heard he has little recall about what exactly happened when he stole the rabbits and struggled to determine "what was real and what was not".

None of the rabbits, some of which belonged to children, have been seen since.

The owners, meanwhile, were left "devastated" when they awoke to find the rabbits gone, Judge Aitken said.

They were concerned not only for their own loss but the welfare of the rabbits.

Some of the victims also became aware of McMahon's Australian case and feared the worst for their pets, while others have now increased security around their homes.

"There was behaviour that took place in Australia that it could be broadly described as similar," Judge Aitken said. "However, they were allegations of much more serious conduct involving the harm and death of rabbits."

She said there "is no case similar to this Mr McMahon", while the judge turned to cases of rustling and multiple burglaries for legal guidance when sentencing him.

"This was obviously premeditated and well-planned offending," Judge Aitken said, adding that the key driver to the offending was McMahon's methamphetamine use.

Fergus McMahon, pictured during a court appearance in October 2017 when he was in custody. Photo / Doug Sherring
Fergus McMahon, pictured during a court appearance in October 2017 when he was in custody. Photo / Doug Sherring

From May last year McMahon was a resident at Odyssey House as he attempted to curb his drug addiction.

"It would appear that you have made significant gains in terms of your rehabilitation," Judge Aitken.

But the judge said she had to "denounce and to deter [McMahon's] offending" and protect his victims.

In all McMahon pleaded guilty to 11 charges, eight of which were representative for the 22 instances of burglary.

He also faced two other theft charges for stealing rabbits and one count of careless driving.

Judge Aitken sentenced him to four months' community detention, with a nightly curfew, and 15 months' intensive supervision.

She said this "should give the community some comfort that the authorities will know where you are at night".

McMahon was also ordered to pay $2735 in reparations to the victims and convicted and discharged on the driving charge.

He has some other historical unrelated convictions.

- Additional reporting, Chris Marriner