A PROPERTY fraud in Martinborough has led to the downfall of a multimillion-dollar crime ring involving crooked lawyers and corrupt financiers.
In 1999, Hikawera McGregor, now living in Marton, owned a 7ha Hinakura Road property and home with a government valuation of $170,000.
Later that year Mr McGregor took out a $30,000 loan through the main players in a Hamilton-based crime ring that also involved four lawyers, an accountant and a valuer, as well as various financial consultants.
Mr McGregor, whose poor credit rating made him a prime target for the ring, lost his only real asset in a mortgagee sale in 2002 after a complex series of loan agreements, identity theft attempts, mortgage securities and forgeries.
Two years later the lead fraudsters in the scam finance broker Miles McKelvy, 46, and former boxer Arden Fatu, 43 were netted in the first of many arrests made in Operation Allsorts. McKelvey has since been convicted on 27 fraud-related charges and was sentenced to eight years jail with a five-year, non-parole period and Fatu was this year convicted on four counts of fraud that included the Martinborough scam and was sentenced to four years jail.
Hamilton police acting Detective Sergeant Simon Eckersley is the only member of the Allsorts team who has remained with the investigation from start to finish.
Mr Eckersley said yesterday that the fraud targeting Mr McGregor had been the first crime investigated by the Allsorts team and was the first to be prosecuted.
The Allsorts inquiry has lasted five years and involved three detectives scouring thousands of documents covering 45 fraudulent property deals worth $6.4 million.
So far 24 people have been convicted for their parts in the scams with one other person still awaiting sentencing, Mr Eckersley said.
He said that most difficult during the investigation was the gaining of warrants to search the offices of lawyers involved in the scams, and the presentation of a complicated trail of evidence to juries.
"It does present some difficulties to search lawyers' offices under warrant but what was always at the backs of our minds was the question of how the hell were we going to get such complex evidence into court.
"Managing the documents was always a worry in that they had to be put in the simplest terms possible so a jury could understand what was being presented," he said.
Mr Eckersley said the frauds had most often targeted vulnerable or low-income people who borrowed funds against their homes, which they believed were then safely held in family trusts.
Mortgages were then raised against the properties without telling the owners.
When the original loan debt mounted and the owners could not meet the repayments, their homes were sold at mortgagee auctions.
Justice Heath, during sentencing in the Hamilton High Court, said McKelvey had "preyed on the ill, the elderly, the commercially naive. In one case, you defrauded a widow of her home, notwithstanding the fact that you knew the family, and she was ill with cancer at the time."
The offenders' callousness is a defining feature for Mr Eckersley of the crimes, he said.
He and Huntly solicitor Alan Wilson have already helped return the home of two elderly victims of the scammers and Mr Eckersley has also encouraged Mr McGregor to attempt recovery of his losses through the New Zealand Law Society Solicitors' Fidelity Guarantee Fund.
"There's been bigger scams in terms of money amounts, but not only were these frauds very complex, it's what they did to their victims their merciless greed and the vulnerability of the people they defrauded that's what stands out for me."
Mr McGregor could not be contacted yesterday.