Two men – including the pastor of an Auckland church – have been sentenced to home detention for paying for sex with an underage Northland girl.
Michael Cornelis Weitenberg, 55, and Owen Sigley, 66, appeared for sentencing in the Kaikohe District Court on Monday, each charged with contracting for sex with a person aged under 18. The girl had just turned 15 at the time.
Weitenberg, a founder of the Futurecaster Church in Albany, was sentenced to six months' home detention and Sigley, a Kawakawa business owner, to nine months.
Weitenberg, who lives in Mairangi Bay, also made a voluntary reparation payment of $5000 to the victim while Sigley was ordered to pay $1000.
The Paihia man who arranged the liaisons is in custody and awaiting trial. The 35-year-old, who has interim name suppression, has denied all 20 charges against him.
Both Weitenberg and Sigley pleaded guilty.
A small but vocal group of protesters spent the morning opposite the courthouse holding placards, chanting "justice for children" and urging motorists to toot in support.
About 15 people, including family and supporters of the two men, filled the gallery with Judge Brandt Shortland taking the rare step of barring anyone aged under 16 from the courtroom.
The court heard both men responded to an online ad offering sex with a young couple and, after an exchange of messages, agreed to pay $150.
In Weitenberg's case there was sexual activity but not intercourse. He tried to arrange a second meeting but it didn't go ahead. In Sigley's case intercourse did take place. The offences occurred in Paihia and Kawakawa in February this year.
Judge Shortland said aggravating features included the vulnerability of the victim and the fact both men had suspicions the girl was underage but didn't pursue it when the man exploiting her avoided their questions.
Neither man, however, had groomed the victim or sought out an underage girl. It was also clear it was not a sex ring as had been claimed.
Both men had ''amazing'' references and no criminal history.
Judge Shortland said Weitenberg had made ''a monumental error that has caused a fall from grace'' and sentencing was probably the most embarrassing day of his life.
Sigley had been forced to sell his home and business and leave the town he'd been part of all his life due to the abuse he'd received.
Both would have to deal with public judgment and the huge impact on their families.
There was also no doubt the victim, who had been exploited by her partner at that time and made to do things that now repulsed her, had had a ''horrendous experience'' that would affect her for life.
Judge Shortland took two and three years' jail as starting points for Weitenberg and Sigley, respectively. That came down to six and nine months' home detention after taking into account their guilty pleas, previous good character and other factors.
Mike Shaw, of anti-trafficking group Stop Demand, said he was disappointed with the sentences and had expected at least 12 months' home detention, as handed down to another defendant last month.
"It signals a lack of deterrent. The whole proceedings seemed to paint the offenders as the victims. Their side of the story was overly dramatised,'' he said.
The Facebook page of the Futurecaster Church, which has been taken down, described Weitenberg as a church founder, senior elder and prophet.
Kaitaia man Marcus Barker was last month sentenced to one year's home detention. He faced two charges of contracting for sex with a person under 18 as well as a charge under the Crimes Act of sexual connection with a person aged 12-16.
The charges against Weitenberg and Sigley were laid under the Prostitution Reform Act 2003.
One more man, Calvin Fairburn of Kerikeri, has been charged in relation to the case. He denies the charges.