9 Feb 2015

Founder: Youth trust will stay

8:15 am on 9 February 2015

Te Poaka Tipua Charitable Trust founder Veronica Stuart admits to having previously run a men's sex club and also what she calls a gentlemen's club from the trust's current offices.

The trust is being investigated by Internal Affairs.

At the drop-in centre in Linwood last week, Ms Stuart said police had just paid her another visit to check on how she was running things.

"I've met quite a lot of them. I've had ten visits, so this is the eleventh. They just come in and I say, 'oh, this is where it's all at'. But you know they have a look in the cupboards, open the drawers, look behind the curtains."

As recently as Tuesday night, a website claimed a men's sex club, known as the Backroom, was being run from the same address.

Ms Stuart strenuously denied her drop-in centre was doubling as a men's sex club and said she only became aware of the website last week.

She said she had not spoken to the man behind the site, Nikora Nitro, since they fell out in December last year over how the youth trust was going to be run.

"He wanted us to have emergency accommodation for the kids. You know, and that opens a whole lot of risk factors, those sorts of things," she said.

"You've got to put all these things in place and we hadn't had those things in place because we weren't thinking about that. We were just thinking about getting in their heads and talking to them."

Ms Stuart admitted to having previously run a men's sex club at another venue along with Mr Nitro, and to have been running what she called a gentlemen's club from the building that now houses the drop-in centre.

But she said she wound up this business last year, long before she started running the youth centre.

She said it was while she was running her gentlemen's club that she realised there was a need for somewhere for troubled youth in the area to go.

"There was a lot of drug taking down here in the carpark and there was a lot of kids, they were drinking alcohol, and that was in the daytime," she said.

"And I was challenged by a friend, he goes, 'you know, this is easy for you. You can do this'. And I was like, oh well, I wasn't doing anything, my business wasn't taking off in this area."

The trust is now being investigated over Ms Stuart's failure to declare a previous conviction for fraud, something a person running a trust is required to do.

She maintained she had nothing to hide and that she simply did not realise this was something she needed to do.

She said the fraud conviction was five years ago and involved her acting as an accomplice to a relative wrongfully claiming a carer's allowance for a disabled family member.

"She got me to sign a couple of forms to say 'you're looking after Joy'. So I signed my name. And then to find out, I think it was about a year later, that she was claiming for thousands of dollars and I was one of three women that she had done it with."

Media reports have talked about the youth centre as being frequented by former sex workers.

That person is Tasman De Silva, who works alongside Ms Stuart.

"The comments about my former profession, about being a sex worker, that was seven years ago," she said.

"I'm in church, I'm educated, people do change. But they want to stereotype the type of people that should be running a charity like this. It's like, well, we don't see anyone else doing it."

Ms Stuart said so far the trust has yet to attract any funding and has been paid for entirely out of her own pocket.

She said financial backing would allow them to put on activities for the young people and further develop their skills in kapa haka - and she is determined to make a go of things.

Mr Nitro did not return calls for this story.

The Department of Internal Affairs said it was not able to say how long its investigation into the trust may take.