7 Dec 2008

Otago Health Board fraudsters 'deprived sick and elderly'

9:42 am on 7 December 2008

The head of the Otago District Health Board says the two men found guilty of defrauding it of more than $17 million have deprived sick and elderly people of care.

Chair Richard Thomson says he feels nothing but contempt for former IT manager Mike Swann and Queenstown surveyor Kerry Harford.

The High Court in Dunedin returned guilty verdicts on the pair at 10.30pm on Friday. The jury of eight women and four men deliberated for 10 hours after a trial lasting three weeks.

Swann and Harford were each convicted on three fraud charges totalling more than $17 million between 2000 - 2006.

Crown Prosecutor Robin Bates opposed an application for bail for the two men, and cited the historical significance of the case.

Mr Thomson says the money stolen has deprived sick and elderly people of care and has forced people to wait longer for treatment.

He says the investigation and court process has been gruelling for staff, and he expects the public perception of the board has also suffered.

Mr Thomson says dealing with the situation is particularly hard, given the board is facing a deficit of $13 million.

The board is taking civil action to try and recover some of the money, but Mr Thomson says he hopes the men will be ordered to pay reparation when they are sentenced.

Pair held in custody

Swann and Harford are being held in custody until sentencing. No date is set yet for this.

Justice Stevens said on Friday the pair would inevitably receive prison terms.

Crown Prosecutor Robin Bates said the case may be the largest employee fraud the High Court has ever dealt with.