By KELLY BLANCHARD in Rotorua
High-profile policeman Wally Haumaha had political aspirations - until his wife gambled away their savings and stole money from her employer. Kim Haumaha, 39, gambled away the money set aside for her husband's planned 2005 political campaign and to cover it up, stole almost $24,000 from her employer, Westpac Bank. Yesterday the Rotorua woman was sentenced to 150 hours' community work when she appeared in the Rotorua District Court. The $24,000 has been repaid.
Mr Haumaha, a long-serving member of the Rotorua police who was promoted to strategic cultural adviser for the Office of the Police Commissioner in Wellington two years ago, was to have been the local candidate for NZ First in this year's election. He pulled out following his wife's arrest.
Yesterday he sat next to his wife in the Rotorua District Court dock. The couple, who have five children, hung their heads, trembled and cried during most of the two-hour sentencing.
The court heard how the decision for the family to stay in Ngongotaha while Mr Haumaha commuted to Wellington during the week and returned home at the weekends proved tragic. Mrs Haumaha became lonely and turned to gambling for comfort.
She had control over the family finances and over a two-year period gambled away their savings, including money set aside for Mr Haumaha's planned political campaign. When Mr Haumaha told his wife he had been asked to run as NZ First's Rotorua candidate, Mrs Haumaha panicked because she had blown the campaign funds.
Too ashamed to come clean about her gambling addiction, she tried to kill herself.
She used her position at the bank to electronically transfer money into her husband's bank account and their joint account.
The transactions were picked up by the bank and brought to the police's attention.
At Mrs Haumaha's sentencing yesterday more than 50 people packed the public gallery of the court, including several prominent community members including deputy mayor Trevor Maxwell.
Counsel for the bank, Amanda Gordon, said Mrs Haumaha's offending was serious, premeditated and should warrant a jail term.
Mrs Haumaha's lawyer, Mark Milroy, argued for a discharge without conviction as well as continued name suppression because of the effects on the family, particularly Mr Haumaha's career.
Judge Paul Geoghegan rejected Mr Milroy's suggestions. He said Mrs Haumaha's future employers had a right to know about her offending and name suppression should be lifted because of public interest.
"If you look at Mr Haumaha's position, don't the public have a right to know about the conviction of his wife if he is in a position of authority ... and if he has political aspirations?"
The judge also heard from Rotorua district councillor Charles Sturt and lawyer Annette Sykes, who spoke about the dangers Maori women faced with gambling.
Judge Geoghegan said gambling among Maori women needed to be addressed urgently.
After the judge had left the courtroom, Mr Haumaha told the crowd of supporters he could not describe the family's gratitude.
His words were followed by an emotional version of Whakaaria Mai (How Great Thou Art) while the supporters hugged and cried.
He told the Daily Post afterwards his wife was not the only one to blame - she had suffered in his absence and at the hands of poker machines.
"I would just like to give my apology to the people of Rotorua and Ngongotaha."
Politics on hold: Haumaha
Inspector Wally Haumaha says his political aspirations might be on hold but he has no intention of quitting the police force.
Mr Haumaha is Police Commissioner Rob Robinson's right-hand man in terms of Maori police strategies. At present, Mr Haumaha is on leave while he cares for his wife but he intends to return to his role at the Office of the Commissioner.
However, his dreams of becoming an MP are on hold.
Last month Mr Haumaha was announced as NZ First's Rotorua candidate but then the party backtracked and said he was a "representative" but not a candidate.
Mr Haumaha said his family - not politics - was more important.
"The most important thing for me right now are my wife and family."
Mr Haumaha told a courtroom of supporters following yesterday's sentencing that there was no way he would leave his job.
"There are battles within that organisation [the police] that need to be fought, particularly in terms of Maori, and I'm not going anywhere."
By KELLY BLANCHARD in Rotorua