Fraud committed by a former employee of Sir Peter Jackson was the "greatest betrayal" the film mogul has ever experienced.

Eugene John DeMarco, 57, appeared in the High Court at Wellington today for sentencing on six counts of fraud, which he committed while working for a company owned by Sir Peter and his wife, Dame Fran Walsh.

DeMarco was this morning jailed for two years and five months.

He was formerly production manager of an aircraft manufacturer, The Vintage Aviator Limited (TVAL).


Jackson was called as a witness in the trial, where he described how DeMarco came to him asking for a $620,000 loan so he could buy a pair of World War II planes to save them from being sold internationally. It was to be short-term loan, paid off within a year.

But as time went on, the loan still hadn't been repaid.

Jackson said DeMarco then spoke to him in 2016 about an "old fella" in Auckland who had won the lottery and wanted to buy some World War I planes to donate to the NZ Warbirds Association.

"This was at a time where there was a lot of tension and pressure around Gene repaying the debt ... There was a lot of, kind of, inherent anger in the air around this," he said.

No solid plans were made to sell the plane, as far as he knew.

Gene DeMarco has been convicted of fraud after selling off some of Sir Peter Jackson's vintage planes. File photo / George Novak
Gene DeMarco has been convicted of fraud after selling off some of Sir Peter Jackson's vintage planes. File photo / George Novak

"The next thing that I recall was that I was just surfing the internet one evening in earlyish 2017 and I saw a photograph from a New Zealand Warbirds open day."

Jackson had spotted a photo of one of his planes. He had not heard anything about a sale being made so began asking questions, and found out the company had received no money from the sale.

DeMarco was convicted of theft by person in a special relationship and obtaining by deception in relation to the sale of three reproduction vintage aircraft to the New Zealand Warbirds Association Inc.


The obtaining by deception conviction related to the unauthorised use of another vintage aircraft, a P-40, as security to obtain a loan.

A statement from the Serious Fraud Office said he broke the law on several counts to rid himself of a debt of more than $1 million he owed to a trust controlled by Jackson and Walsh.

In court today for sentencing, defence lawyer Marc Corlett QC said the situation DeMarco had brought on himself was "catastrophic for him and his family".

He raised concerns that DeMarco would be unable to continue his career in the aviation industry and use his "highly specialised skill set".

Justice Karen Clark said DeMarco created "an elaborate series of lies".

"You put considerable thought and effort into devising and executing your fraud."

Reading from victim impact statements, she said for Jackson the deception was "the greatest betrayal he has ever experienced".

After being found guilty of fraud, DeMarco sent out a mass email telling associates he faced a four-year jail term for something he did not do, and asking for character references.

"When I now consider the authenticity of your public expression of remorse through your lawyer, I do so against the backdrop of that private denial of your wrongdoing."

Justice Clark also said DeMarco "guided" character referees in what they should say in their letters to the court.

"This explains the remarkable similarity in content and language," she said.

She declined to give him any discounts to his sentence for remorse or good character, and pointed out he had been convicted in 1999 in the US for possession of a stolen aircraft.

She did allow a discount for the effect prison will have on DeMarco's pregnant wife and young daughter.

Justice Clark sentenced DeMarco to two years and five months in prison.