Rotorua lawyer in prison for fraud

The Auckland District Court sentenced former lawyer John David Rangitauira to four-and-half-years imprisonment on December 16, 2011.

The 59-year-old lawyer was convicted of four charges under the Crimes Act in November 2011 following a Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation.

The Court found him guilty of obtaining funds by deception.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) brought the charges against Mr Rangitauira, saying that he had dishonestly obtained funds totaling over $840,000 from Westpac and the Te Houoterangi Trust, of which he was a trustee, Chairman and solicitor.

Judge Wilson QC described Mr Rangitauira’s actions as a breach of trust of the highest level.

According to SFO, the loans from Westpac were purported to be for “overseas property transactions.”

“The money was in fact directed to various overseas parties involved in an overseas advanced fee fraud, a fact not known to Mr Rangitauira at the time he sent the funds.

“The advance fee fraud was based on the premise that there was a US$22.3 million inheritance being held in the Central Bank in Burkina Faso, but that in order to release the money, certain payments were required to be made to the overseas parties,” a press release said.

It said Mr Rangitauira became involved in the scheme when a client approached him asking for assistance in releasing the money.

In return for his assistance, the client agreed to give him a portion of the inheritance – about US$5.3 million.

SFO Chief Executive Adam Feeley said, “As is typical of advance fee frauds, there was no inheritance and all of the money sent overseas was lost.”

The SFO opened its investigation into Mr Rangitauira in February 2009 and laid charges in September 2010.

To raise funds for sending overseas, Mr Rangitauira applied to Westpac bank for a loan. In his application, he represented to the bank that the purpose of the loan was to complete an “overseas property transaction.”

The bank advanced $506,000. The funds were not used for the purpose for which they were obtained, with a majority remitted overseas to release the purported inheritance.

The Te Houoterangi Trust represents over 500 beneficiaries and is responsible for administering a block of Maori freehold land in Rotorua.

“As a trustee and solicitor for the Trust, Mr Rangitauira had a duty to disclose all relevant information to the Trust, including his personal interest in the matter. He failed to do so and as a result, he obtained $338,834.48 of the Trusts’ money which he remitted overseas,” the SFO said.

The background

According to SFO, the money fraudulently obtained by Mr Rangitauira was principally applied to an overseas advanced fee fraud in which he was a victim.

This particular fraud involved the premise that there was an unclaimed US$22.3 million inheritance held in the Central Bank in the West Africa Nation of Burkina Faso.

The money needed to be physically cleaned as it was covered in a black substance. Once cleaned, the person entitled to the inheritance would supposedly receive the full US$22.3 million.

Mr Rangitauira became involved when a client approached him for assistance in releasing this inheritance, which she had been led to believe she was entitled to.

This client appears to be an unwitting catalyst to Mr Rangitauira’s offending.

In consideration for Mr Rangitauira’s assistance, the client agreed to give him a portion of the inheritance, ultimately being an amount of US$5.3 million.

Over a period of years, Mr Rangitauira communicated with the people involved in the advance fee fraud. They made various representations to him about needing money for fees and cleaning product to clean the money before it could be released.

Mr Rangitauira obtained the funds deceptively in order to use the funds to facilitate the release of the purported inheritance.

-A Serious Fraud Office Press Release

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