Adviser admits taking $1M from elderly (NZ)

The elderly clients of a Rotorua financial adviser considered her to be a close friend when she stole almost $1 million from them and their family trusts.

Today former financial adviser Linnet Bernadine Lewis, 51, pleaded guilty to 16 charges of theft by a person in a special relationship. An investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) led to the criminal charges against Lewis in November 2013.

Lewis admitted the crimes just as her trial was about to start in the High Court at Rotorua.

According to the summary of facts, the offending took place between 2004 and 2011.

Lewis had worked for Guardian Trust for seven years before her departure in 2004 prompted several clients to move their trusts, personal investments and expenditure administration into her care.

The 51-year-old took over paying clients’ utility accounts, rates, tax returns, as well as managed their property portfolios and investments.

She also invested her clients’ trust funds in Craigs Investment Partners Ltd and was authorised to act on their behalf.

After one of Lewis’ clients died in 2008 his widow became aware of unauthorised withdrawals that had been made in her husband’s name and the family trust.

The widow instructed a private investigator, her accountant and a solicitor to help reconcile discrepancies.

Lewis acknowledged errors had been made and paid back $37,807 by making unauthorised withdrawals from other trusts and clients’ accounts.

Another couple who discovered unauthorised withdrawals from a family trust also asked their lawyer to find out how much time Lewis had spent working on their behalf.

“The only response they received was an offer by the defendant to refund $4000 in ‘full and final settlement’,” says the summary.

Lewis is said to have forged invoices and in some cases altered invoices by using correction fluid or increasing the amount owing.

Lewis is also said to have spent about $830,000 of her clients’ money on herself and making untraceable cash withdrawals of around $30,000.

Of the money she spent, more than $200,000 went to her personal bank account, while $336,000 went towards her mortgage repayments and house renovations.

She also spent $5300 on food and entertainment and another $11,250 on health and beauty products or services.

“Ms Lewis has committed a serious breach of trust against her clients, many of whom were vulnerable, elderly people with reduced capacity to manage their own affairs,” says SFO director Julie Read. “The SFO is committed to prosecuting such offences, which have the capacity to damage New Zealand’s reputation as a safe place to invest and do business.”

Lewis has been remanded on bail for sentencing on June 19.


Adviser admits taking $1M from elderly Updated
May 4, 2015