By AINSLEY THOMSON

A high-school dropout who became a millionaire was yesterday found guilty of accident compensation fraud.

A jury in the Hamilton District Court took 10 hours to find Ronald Frederick Donaldson guilty of 44 counts of defrauding ACC.

The charges related to payments he received between July 1991 and September 1999.

The 61-year-old was found not guilty on 35 counts for payments from October 1988 to June 1991.

The case is one of the five largest ACC probes brought before a court.

The Crown said $7.3 million went through the bank accounts of the Waihi Beach man while he received close to $500,000 in accident compensation payments.

At the heart of the case was a friendship between Donaldson and his business partner, Les Wykes - a friendship which turned sour over the division of profits from a $2.2 million business sale and ended in allegations of blackmail.

Donaldson left school at 15 and taught himself to weld.

In July 1988 Donaldson, who owns and lives at the Waihi airfield, was working on a mining project when he lifted a piece of steel and severely injured his back.

The injury, he said, left him bed-ridden and unable to move.

By 1990 Donaldson had partially recovered and was deemed fit to do light work.

He filled out Accident Compensation documents saying he could work for 20 hours a week.

He said he declared to ACC all he was required to.

The Crown claimed that over the 10 years, Donaldson was working nearly full-time.

He was obliged to tell Accident Compensation of this work and his failure to do so was intentional and fraudulent.

The Crown said Donaldson built boats and houses, was in property development and speculation and developed a new housing construction method called Tri-panels.

The business prospered, but his friendship with Mr Wykes soured over the division of the $2.2 million they received for its sale to Fletcher in 1997.

Donaldson's lawyer, Warren Scotter, said Mr Wykes hired private investigator Michael Campbell and tried to blackmail Donaldson into giving him the extra money.

Mr Wykes had said that if Donaldson did not comply, Mr Campbell's file against him would be handed to ACC.

But at the same time ACC was also paying Mr Campbell - a total of $100,000 - to investigate Donaldson.

The investigations resulted in the charges being laid.

Mr Scotter said this chain of dealings and misinformation corrupted the case.

Prejudice existed against Donaldson because he received ACC payments when he already had so much money, the defence said.

Judge Robert Wolff remanded Donaldson on bail until sentencing on January 16.