18 Nov 2016

Auckland architect jailed over mortgage scam

9:41 pm on 18 November 2016

An architect who fled the country while being investigated over a $33 million mortgage fraud has been sentenced to three years and two months in prison.

Auckland District Court

Simon Lawrence Wood Turnbull was sentenced in the Auckland District Court today. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Simon Lawrence Wood Turnbull appeared in the Auckland District Court today after earlier admitting 16 charges.

Crown prosecutor John Dixon described the offending as sophisticated and repeated.

He said Turnbull's co-accused - property developer Malcolm Mayer - owned a property portfolio of residential flats.

The pair's scam involved Mayer selling the property to Turnbull at inflated prices in 2006 and 2007.

Judge Sharp described the period as the "heady days" of the property market. It was going "gangbusters".

"It was at a time when finance companies were falling over themselves to lend huge amounts of money."

Turnbull borrowed money from a finance company, TEL, and the pair used the borrowed money to develop the properties with a view to on-sell them at a profit.

When the pair had worked their way through Mayer's portfolio, they then began looking at other properties.

And when TEL became suspicious, the pair resorted to using forged sale and purchase agreements to hide their involvement.

But their timing could not have been worse.

When the global financial crisis hit, credit became tight and the pair's offending was uncovered.

Turnbull's offending cost TEL $17m in losses.

He spent some of the money from TEL paying off debt on a Whangaparaoa property, paying debt he owed to Bridgecorp and on restaurants.

Mr Dixon said Turnbull fled the country in 2008, heading first to Australia and on to Hong Kong before settling in the United States. He left his estranged wife to handle the fall-out.

Turnbull returned in June but only when the extradition process was well advanced.

But Turnbull's lawyer, Simon Lance, said his client had already split with his wife before leaving and he had actually been looking for borrowers overseas.

He said Turnbull came back to New Zealand before being served with extradition papers.

Mr Lance said Mayer was the instigator and his client - a young architect - was motivated to design good buildings in Auckland.

He said his client didn't make any money and never intended to rip anyone off.

Turnbull's parents were invited to sit in the jury box by Judge Sharp so they could hear the proceedings better.

In a letter to the court, they acknowledged their son had done wrong but they said they had seen his remorse.

Judge Sharp said Mayer was the senior partner in the scheme - he was more wealthy and began the fraud - but both were motivated by greed.

In sentencing, she gave Turnbull a number of discounts, including time off for his early guilty pleas, his previous good character and his voluntary return to the country to face prosecution.

She also acknowledged that Turnbull had expressed remorse - something Mayer had never done.

Mayer was sentenced to six years in jail with a minimum non-parole period of three years for his part in the scam.

While Mr Lance referred to Turnbull as an architect, the New Zealand Registered Architects Board contacted RNZ after the sentencing to say he was not a registered architect and never had been.

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