13 Sep 2019

Fraud conviction for man who sold Sir Peter Jackson's planes

3:04 pm on 13 September 2019

A man who sold planes belonging to Sir Peter Jackson without his knowledge and kept the money has been convicted of fraud.

18072016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Wellington High Court.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

A jury has today found Eugene John DeMarco, 57, guilty of six counts of fraud after a three-week High Court trial in Wellington.

DeMarco, former production manager at Sir Peter's company, The Vintage Aviator Limited, was convicted of theft by person in a special relationship and obtaining by deception in relation to the sale of three reproduction vintage aircraft to the New Zealand Warbirds Association and using one as security to obtain a loan.

The Serious Fraud office said DeMarco broke the law on several counts to rid himself of a debt of more than $1 million he owed to a trust controlled by Sir Peter and Dame Fran Walsh.

His financial troubles began back in 2011, when a finance company started pursuing him over a debt accrued by the Airtight Trust, of which he was chairman.

The trust had borrowed $1 million to buy vintage planes.

Sir Peter agreed to buy a hangar owned by the trust and to lend Mr DeMarco $607,000 via his Film Property Trust.

By early 2016 the debt - which was intended to be a short-term loan - had ballooned to more than a $1 million due to interest.

It was about this time DeMarco was approached by the Warbirds Association, which wanted to buy two planes.

But the price he gave them was inflated and the money went into his bank account, rather than the company's.

The Crown said Mr DeMarco used $720,000 to pay off his debt and let another $1m sit in his bank account, using it for everyday bills.

He did later return some of the money back to Warbirds, which he had in his bank account for about a year.

Mr DeMarco was also accused of getting a loan for $250,000 from BNZ in May or June of 2016 using another vintage plane as security, despite being part of a shareholder's agreement that no charges or loans would be made against assets without the consent of them all.

Sir Peter told the court the "first inkling" the plane had been sold came when the Civil Aviation Authority asked for a fee to change the ownership of the plane.

He then saw a photo of his plane on a Facebook page, dated November 2016, in the Warbirds' hangar.

A complaint was made to the Serious Fraud Office over Mr DeMarco's behaviour in August 2017.

The Director of the Serious Fraud Office, Julie Read, said DeMarco defrauded his employer, a charitable organisation, a friend and a bank.

"His offending was premeditated and driven by self-interest. The prosecution of such matters is an important aspect of protecting New Zealand's reputation as a safe place to invest and do business."

DeMarco is scheduled to reappear for sentencing at the High Court in Wellington next month.