11 Jun 2014

NZ's biggest fraudster appeals

10:34 pm on 11 June 2014

People ripped off by the man responsible for New Zealand's biggest fraud, are angry that he is attempting to have his minimum sentence reduced.

In November 2013, David Ross was jailed for 10 years and 10 months and ordered to spend at least half that time in jail after his Ponzi scheme collapsed, owing investors more than $100 million.

David Ross.

David Ross. Photo: RNZ

At the sentencing hearing, Judge Denys Barry said the scale of Ross' offending was unprecedented and many of his victims were elderly, frail and ill. He ordered Ross to serve at least half of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole.

On Wednesday, Ross' lawyer Gary Turkington told the Court of Appeal in Wellington that the minimum term was "crushing", manifestly excessive and that a four-year minimum sentence would be sufficient to punish his client.

He said there was no guarantee that Ross would be granted parole straight away at the end of four years and, even if he was, there would still be restrictions on his freedom of movement and where he could be employed.

Mr Turkington said his client accepted it was a very bad fraud which had caused incalculable harm to a number of people. Ross had done what he could to make reparation, including giving up his share of his matrimonial home and other assets.

Regarding the argument that Ross would be in his twilight years when he left prison, Justice Venning said some investors are also that age or more and they have also suffered very much.

Mr Turkington accepted that, but questioned the point of Ross spending extra time sitting in jail at the taxpayers' expense.

Justice Venning said that was the price of a civilised society.

For the Crown, Matthew Downes said the offending carried on for more than a decade and there was a grave breach of trust which had a profound impact on more than 700 victims. He told the Court of Appeal that the sentence of five years and five months should stand.

The court reserved its decision on Wednesday.

Elderly victims 'struggling'

Outside court Bruce Tichbon, a spokesperson for many former Ross investors, said elderly people who lost everything are now struggling to make ends meet.

"There are people in their seventies who've had to go back to work, working in very tough menial jobs to try and pay their way in the world - and they are an awful lot older than Mr Ross is going to be when he comes out of jail if he has to serve four or five years."

Mr Tichbon said he is concerned that if Ross' sentence is reduced, it would send the wrong message to others who might be tempted to do something similar and that could lead to thousands more investors being ripped off.

"Thousands of hard-working Kiwis have been ripped off by fraudsters like Ross in this country, and I'm afraid thousands more will be exposed to the same indignity - because these guys simply aren't given adequate punishment."