13 Apr 2024

Te Kuiti woman Bronwyn Rutter sentenced to home detention after fleecing sister of $1.6m

12:17 pm on 13 April 2024

By Belinda Feek, Open Justice reporter of NZ Herald

Bronwyn Rutter, pictured outside the Te Kuiti District Court at a previous appearance, has been ordered to pay $67,000 in reparation. Photo / Belinda Feek

Bronwyn Rutter, pictured outside the Te Kuiti District Court at a previous appearance, has been ordered to pay $67,000 in reparation. Photo: Belinda Feek

A woman with control of her ailing sister's bank accounts siphoned almost $1.6 million to buy herself a house.

Bronwyn Rutter, of Te Kuiti, previously claimed it had been a "momentary lapse in judgment" and unsuccessfully argued to avoid a conviction. She has now been sentenced to home detention.

The sentence was one Rutter argued against, pleading for an outcome that would allow her to head to Australia to live with her son.

NZME was recently granted the sentencing notes from her hearing, held in Te Kuiti District Court last month.

Judge Brett Crowley found her offending was too serious to avoid home detention but prison was not an option because of her fragile mental health.

The court heard Rutter, 67, signed an enduring power of attorney in 2019 but it was only after 2 March, 2022, when her older sister was deemed mentally incapable, that she started taking her money.

Between March and July 2022, she completed a series of approximately 11 transactions, with most being for about $1000, though one on 27 April was for $1.518m.

The following month, she contacted her sister's lawyer about changing her sister's will and told him about the large withdrawal, which was to buy herself and her husband a new house.

She said her sister had consented to it but was told by the lawyer that her sister was not mentally fit to consent and Rutter was not allowed to make withdrawals.

Rutter paid the house money back. However, she then went on to take more money.

In July, she took out about $50,000 to buy a new vehicle.

Family members eventually found out and a complaint was made to police.

She pleaded guilty in June last year to a representative charge of theft by a person in a special relationship, the morning her trial was due to start.

The Te Kuiti District Court.

The Te Kuiti District Court. Photo: Supplied / Ministry of Justice

In August, she sought a discharge without conviction.

Her counsel, Rob Weir, asked Judge Crowley to exercise "mercy" on Rutter and submitted she had a "momentary lapse in judgment" about the conditions of the power of attorney but had sought legal advice and paid most of the money back soon after.

The judge dismissed the application, labelling her offending as "very serious" but "unsophisticated".

Comments Rutter had made to the pre-sentence report writer had caused the judge concern, he said.

Those comments included that she "flatly denies" the offending, only pleaded guilty because of a "misunderstanding", she had permission to take the money and had "done nothing wrong".

She was remanded on bail for more reports.

At her sentencing, Weir explained how the plea for a non-custodial sentence was influenced by a psychological report that outlined her fragile mental health.

But Judge Crowley said he had to "consider the overall justice" of the case and, while he brought the sentence down to two years' jail, from a four-year starting point, he could not issue any more discounts.

"I cannot find a way to sentence you in such a way that you would be entitled to leave the country immediately," he said.

It was inherent in the admitted charge that Rutter had an "obligation of trust cast on you by your sister and you abused that by stealing a large amount of her money".

Rutter was sentenced to 12 months' home detention and ordered to pay reparation of $67,607.66.

'Despicable betrayal by a family member'

A family spokesperson said there were no winners in the case as they were once a tight-knit family.

"Bronwyn's financial exploitation of our sister, sister-in-law and aunt was a despicable betrayal by a family member entrusted to care for her elderly and vulnerable sister," they said in a statement.

"Her greed and entitlement knew no bounds and it was only through a very long, painstaking and expensive process through three courts that we have managed to stop her."


The family would now focus on moving forward with the "continued care and protection of our matriarch, whose life Bronwyn upended and stripped of dignity when this ordeal began two years ago".

- This story was first published by the NZ Herald