Woman jailed for stealing $368,000 from Ports of Auckland

3:59 pm on 4 July 2019

A woman who jointly stole more than $368,000 from the Ports of Auckland with her lover has been jailed.

Auckland High Court, District Court, High Court, Crest, Coat of Arms, court, courts

Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Litia Vuniduvu, 39, billed the Ports of Auckland for contract work that was never done with her partner Paul Bainbridge between 2013 and 2016.

Bainbridge, a former Ports of Auckland manager who oversaw millions of dollars in expenditure, was jailed for his role in the scheme and has since been released on parole.

Vuniduvu stood trial in the Auckland District Court in April after pleading not guilty to 50 charges of dishonestly using documents.

She was found guilty of each of the charges and stood in the dock, crying and clutching tissues, at sentencing in the North Shore District Court this morning.

The court heard the Fiji-born woman had travelled between Fiji and New Zealand since 2007 but had never been able to obtain residency.

She eventually met and formed a relationship with her co-defendant Paul Bainbridge, who had worked as a manager in the Ports of Auckland's head office in Mechanics Bay since July 2012.

Bainbridge oversaw millions of dollars of Ports of Auckland expenditure and between 2013 and 2016 authorised payments to Vuniduvu for contract work that was never completed.

The 39-year-old received 50 payments totalling $368,842.50 and when the Ports of Auckland began investigating it was discovered the pair had been in a relationship for at least three years and Vuniduvu was using a fake name on the invoices.

This morning, Judge Jonathan Down said the strength of the evidence led him to conclude Vuniduvu was fully aware of and participating in illegally obtaining the money.

Her defence lawyer Richard Slade had earlier submitted his client was less culpable than her co-defendant Bainbridge and asked for a community-based sentence.

"Her offending wasn't sophisticated ... it's distinctly different from Mr Bainbridges'. Without Mr Bainbridge she wouldn't be here. He was in a position of power and in a position of trust."

But Crown prosecutor Elena Mok told the court Vuniduvu's culpability was "on par" with her co-defendant as she had taken steps to conceal the offending after it began to be investigated.

"This really was a joint enterprise and the two defendants should be regarded as having a similar level of culpability."

Ms Mock submitted a sentence of four years' imprisonment, with a minimum period of 50 percent, would be appropriate.

The court heard emotional expressions of remorse from Vuniduvu herself this morning after she failed to engage with the pre-sentence report writer.

Standing in the dock, the 39-year-old told the court that - like her late father - she was an alcoholic, and relapsed shortly after he died in 2014.

"The three years that destroyed my life through this process; I accept it all. I lost my business, I haven't seen my children for three years, I lost my job as a project manager ... but I accept all that.

"I'm grateful to stand here before you having lost everything materialistic that I built in my 39 years of life. Standing here just having my sobriety is enough. It's more than enough."

The court heard Vuniduvu indicated her wish to pay the money back at an earlier bail application hearing but Ms Mok said the Ports of Auckland were never formally approached.

Judge Down sentenced Vuniduvu to three years' imprisonment, with non minimum non-parole period, after granting her a 12 month discount for personal mitigating factors.

He acknowledged this was not common in cases where a defendant pursues charges to a jury trial but said Vuniduvu was entitled to the discounts she was given.