A man who stole about $1.2 million from the Waitangi Trust started his career at the Rotorua Museum as a teenager and worked there for eight years.

Wallace Tamamotu Te Ahuru, 30, originally from Rotorua but now living in Kerikeri, pleaded guilty to two charges of obtaining by deception and seven charges of using forged documents when he appeared at the Manukau District Court on Tuesday.

The charges were brought by the Serious Fraud Office.

His offending has left his boss, former Rotorua Museum director Greg McManus who went on to hire him in Northland, "devastated".

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Te Ahuru misappropriated about $1.2m from the Waitangi National Trust Group while employed as its corporate services manager. He splurged the money on luxury clothing, cosmetic surgery, adult entertainment and travel.

In his role, he was responsible for the financial administration of the trust. Te Ahuru's offending was described as being hard to detect.

Wallace Te Ahuru when he was a teenager working for the Rotorua Museum in 2005. Photo / File
Wallace Te Ahuru when he was a teenager working for the Rotorua Museum in 2005. Photo / File

Te Ahuru started working at the Rotorua Museum in 2004 as a 16-year-old on a school work experience scheme and was employed fulltime in 2005.

He worked on the front desk, then controlled the accounts before following McManus to Northland in 2012 to work for the Waitangi Trust, where McManus is chief executive.

The trust looks after the Treaty of Waitangi grounds.

McManus told the Rotorua Daily Post today he was "devastated" because he trusted Te Ahuru.

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Rotorua Museum director Greg McManus gave Wallace Te Ahuru a job in Northland. Photo / File
Rotorua Museum director Greg McManus gave Wallace Te Ahuru a job in Northland. Photo / File

McManus, Rotorua Museum director for more than 15 years, said Te Ahuru was recognisable by his sense of fashion and "plum" when he spoke - something for which he picked up after getting elocution lessons as a child.

"He was very unique and unusual. He had the accent, the clothes and that attitude but he was very popular."

As a teen, Te Ahuru also featured in the Rotorua Daily Post as an up-and-coming croquet player.

Wallace Te Ahuru was described in the Rotorua Daily Post in 2004 as an up-and-coming croquet player. Photo / File
Wallace Te Ahuru was described in the Rotorua Daily Post in 2004 as an up-and-coming croquet player. Photo / File

McManus said Te Ahuru was known to trade in "futures", an online investing scheme between buyers and sellers, and people believed he was making a lot of money from it, hence his extravagant lifestyle.

He gave the trust a year's notice and left in October 2017 with staff giving him a big farewell party, McManus said.

However, the person who took over his role started to notice discrepancies in the accounting in November and December 2017, prompting the SFO investigation.

"I honestly don't know what triggered his offending."

McManus said when his board chairman told him of their suspicions of Te Ahuru, he didn't believe him.

"I said it was mistake. I was completely devastated."

When asked if he regretted putting so much trust in him, McManus said he didn't.

"I had known him for 14 years and he had not given me any reason not to trust him. Sometimes people do things that abuse that trust and ... sometimes good people do bad things. I'm not going to say he is a bad person but he has done something really terrible that has hurt lots of people."

McManus said the offending had greatly impacted the trust because Te Ahuru had stolen all of its reserves.

"It's devastating. According to the paper work it was there but it never was. That was the point, he had the ability and the level of deception was very high."

In a statement, Serious Fraud Office director Julie Read said: "Mr Te Ahuru deceived the custodian of one of the most historically significant places in New Zealand. His offending has caused reputational damage to the Waitangi National Trust which is the recipient of government grants and private donations."

Te Ahuru was remanded in custody to reappear for sentencing on November 30.