Paul James Bennett, a 57-year-old with several aliases including Dennis Kite, David Kite, and James Lochead, had allegedly been on the run from police after being accused of masterminding a string of cons.
It can now be revealed that while living in Australia as Lochead in 2003, he ripped off a Kiwi dairy farmer and pilot of $111,000 over a plane parts scam.
But the conman was then able to sneak into New Zealand on a yacht without detection and carry out another series of scams here amounting to more than $400,000.
Police launched Operation Kite in 2014 to investigate long-standing fraud allegations relating to Bennett.
Helipower director Mike Jacomb – a former business partner – even offered a $50,000 bounty to help find Bennett, alleging he had been swindled out of more than $250,000 in business deals.
Bennett was arrested as he sailed into Sydney Harbour after crossing the Tasman Sea from Northland on a crippled yacht in February 2015.
He was later extradited to New Zealand and charged with dozens of charges alleging that he used documents dishonestly and without claim of right to obtains hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Jailed for increasingly sophisticated scams
At Christchurch District Court, Bennett was jailed for 38 months after pleading guilty to seven representative fraud and theft charges which involved four victims and amounted to $582,680.85, spanning 2003 to 2014.
However, allegations that he stole a luxury yacht – and that he sold fake Rolex watches on TradeMe, plus other allegations – have been dropped by prosecutors.
The first charges date back to 2003 when Bennett ripped off dairy farmer George Glaister.
Glaister had been looking for some aircraft navigation parts online for a plane he flew himself and ended up getting approached by Bennett, calling himself James Lochead, chief executive of a company based in Australia called Parkwood Trust.
Bennett offered to sell him some parts worth AUS$12,000 with a down payment of AUS$8000.
Over the next few months, the farmer made 13 transactions totalling $111,079.82 into Bennett’s bank account paying for the supply of avionics equipment.
Glaister never received anything – and never heard from him again.
Sailboat mystery and motocross scams
Skilled yachtsman Bennett married former Australian TV presenter Simone Ann Wright in Balmain, Sydney in 2002 and three years later they sailed to New Zealand.
However, Immigration New Zealand has no record of them coming into New Zealand since 2005, the summary of facts says.
While back in New Zealand, Kiwi citizen Bennett mixed in motocross racing, passing himself off as an agent and manager.
Around mid-2007, he sold Grant Leighton a Honda CRF 250 four stroke motorbike for $10,500 – but unfortunately for Leighton, Bennett didn’t own it.
Leighton then gave Bennett a Yamaha worth around $7000 for him to sell. He never got his money back.
And in April 2008, Frederick Saunders was introduced to Bennett at a motocross event through Dave Leary, owner of the Dave Leary Racing Team.
Bennett spoke to Saunders about his son Nick about trialling for ride in France with the Bud Racing team.
Through emails, Bennett asked Saunders for a $9998 bond which he said would be held in a trust and forwarded to the racing team. The money was paid before Nick Saunders was offered a definite ride in Australia and decided to accept it and postpone the French ride. A refund was asked for but never materialised.
The helicopter scams
In early 2012, Michael Jacomb met Bennett through TradeMe over a Rolex watch he needed repaired.
Bennett initially called himself Dennis Kite but later asked to be called David Kite.
“Police enquiries show he has several aliases and that his birth name is Paul James Bennett,” the summary says.
Jacomb travelled to Wanaka and met Bennett where they found a common interest in helicopters. Bennett claimed to hold a helicopter licence.
They kept in touch and started discussing a business where Jacomb would buy a helicopter and Bennett would be the pilot.
Jacomb and Bennett entered into an informal business relationship, the court heard, with Jacomb setting up a company called Helipower which operated out of Upper Hutt.
Bennett said he would source helicopters through a chopper company in Perth, Western Australia called Heliwest.
Bennett arranged for the purchase of three helicopters through Heliwest – and also arranged for an inspection of a B2 helicopter based in Ukraine – which was not purchased.
The first helicopter was a green and white B2 Squirrel Eurocopter purchased for US$950,000 from Heliwest in late 2012.
It was assembled by Helisupport, a Wanaka-based company which specialised in the service and repair of helicopters.
On behalf of Helipower, Helisupport leased it to The Helicopter Line (THL) owned by Totally Tourism Ltd.
In 2013, the helicopter was written off when a THL pilot – not Bennett – crashed into another helicopter.
Between about July and October 2013, Bennett sought reimbursement of a number of fake invoices and expenses from Jacomb, the court heard.
In August 13, he forged Jacomb’s signature on a Helisupport credit application and kept lease payments or proceeds from the sale of helicopter parts between November 2013 and March 2014.
And in September 2013, Bennett arranged for a pre-purchase inspection of another helicopter in Ukraine. Bennett ended up seeking reimbursement of $41,000 from Jacomb – but the actual cost was just $11,000.
The second helicopter Jacomb bought was a yellow B3+ Squirrel Eurocopter US$1.69m in mid-2013 – which was sourced from Chile.
The chopper sustained some damage during transit and was assembled and repaired in Wanaka.
Bennett then sought reimbursement through fake invoices from Jacomb and received a transit damage payment that was not passed on to his business partner.
The third helicopter was bought by Jacomb for US$1.05m in late 2013 from Heliwest.
It was delivered to Christchurch in March 2014 and leased to High Country Helicopters based near Invercargill.
Bennett then forged a number of invoices and kept lease payments.
Alarm bells started ringing in May 2014 when Jacomb’s accountant raised discrepancies picked up by the IRD.
When Jacomb questioned Bennett, he claimed it was an MYOB accountancy software problem and that he’d sought it out.
It was the last contact Jacomb ever had with him and when he flew to Christchurch on May 9, 2014 to find him, Bennett had “disappeared”.
In sentencing Bennett yesterday, Judge Paul Kellar said the charges relating to Jacomb showed a “relatively high level of sophistication”.
There were four victims, all of whom had been acquaintances to some degree, and in the case of Jacomb where there was a business relationship, there had been a high degree of trust. His offending had resulted in significant impacts on his victims, the court heard.
When defence counsel Simon Shamy was asked about the likelihood of reparation, he said it was unrealistic, given that he’s been in custody for so long and that when he gets out, he will be on a benefit.
His ex-partner Simone Anne Wright aka Smith denies 11 fraud charges and is awaiting trial.
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