Rotorua man Kody Mahuika took advantage of his former employer Robbie Ward while he was recovering from a crash that left him suffering a moderate brain injury and memory loss. Mahuika's actions have been described by a Rotorua District Court judge as "callous", "calculated" and "mean-spirited". Journalist Kelly Makiha was in court and reveals what Mahuika did to his former boss and talks to Ward about how the offending has impacted him.
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Kody Mahuika took advantage of his former friend and boss after he suffered a brain injury in a crash and ripped him off so badly, it nearly sent him under.
World champion Ngongotahā drag driver Robbie Ward was at the top of his game.
His business making and importing race cars and vehicle parts was booming and as a driver he was clocking up national and world records and titles.
Now Ward has been left feeling "betrayed" and "ripped off" by a person who in his opinion was a "scum bag" -- and someone he had trusted.
Ward's world changed dramatically after he crashed into a concrete barrier travelling at 180km/h at the Meremere drag strip in 2017.
Left with a moderate brain injury severely impacting his memory, not only was Ward lucky to be alive, but his business was in trouble.
Within a week, his former employee Mahuika appeared back on the scene and offered to "get him back on his feet".
But instead, Mahuika spent the following 18 months slowly stealing parts from the Ngongotahā garage and selling them on Trade Me.
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Details of the case were revealed in the Rotorua District Court yesterday after Mahuika was sentenced after previously pleading guilty to a charge of stealing 59 parts valued at $29,550.
The case had been working its way through the Rotorua District Court this year after Mahuika pleaded not guilty to a second charge relating to stealing other items from Ward's business valued at more than $35,000. That charge was yesterday dropped by police.
The court heard Mahuika would use Ward's memory loss to convince him he had done something else with the parts when Ward became suspicious about their whereabouts.
Given Mahuika was now the sole caregiver of his three children, Judge Maree Mackenzie agreed to sentence Mahuika to six months' community detention with a curfew between 7pm and 7am, 200 hours' community work and nine months' supervision instead of 13-and-a-half months' home detention.
Judge Mackenzie also ordered Mahuika to repay Ward $29,550 at a rate of $50 a week while he was unemployed, which must rise to $100 a week if he got a job.
Judge Mackenzie described how from 2018, Ward noticed various parts going missing from the workshop. When he asked Mahuika where they were, Mahuika would convince him they had been sold.
"He believed you, thinking it was his head injury."
Judge Mackenzie described Mahuika's offending as "premeditated", "mean spirited" and "callous".
"He feels let down by someone he considered a friend ... This is a significant breach of trust ... You knew he had a head injury and took advantage of him. Clearly he had some memory recall issues at the time."
Mahuika's scheme was uncovered when a customer asked Ward about a specific part he had bought on Trade Me from Mahuika - one Ward knew for a fact he hadn't sold.
A search warrant at Mahuika's home revealed what he had been doing.
Ward told the Rotorua Daily Post after the court hearing that he reluctantly let Mahuika back into his businesses because Mahuika knew what to do and he needed help while he recovered.
"I took Kody overseas with us on all-expenses paid trips while we were racing. I bent over backwards to help the guy. He was a trusted friend. That was the bit that really gutted me. I looked after him so much and he came across as such a nice guy and that he was my mate."
Ward said he committed to building a new house next to his workshop before his crash and suddenly not only was his income gone but little did he know his business was being slowly ripped off.
Although on the road to recovery now, Ward is still on ACC and can only work 16 hours a week.
"We had cracked it at the time and had high profile wealthy clients but after this I really struggled and nearly had to shut the shop and go bankrupt."
Now Ward only hoped that Mahuika would do the decent thing and ensure he paid his reparation.
"I don't trust anyone now. I don't have any staff and I'm just paranoid all the time about people ripping me off."