Blue Chip founder escapes prison sentence

Blue Chip founder Mark Bryers in the dock at the Auckland District Court.
Blue Chip founder Mark Bryers in the dock at the Auckland District Court.

An angry investor in the failed Blue Chip property investment company says she feels let down after the company's co-founder Mark Bryers avoided a jail term after pleading guilty to a number of financial reporting charges today.

He also escaped angry investors and a swag of media outside the Auckland District Court this afternoon, after he was handed down a $37,470 fine and 75 hours of community service.

Bryers was given a police escort to a waiting car and would not answer reporters' questions.

He had earlier pleaded guilty to 34 charges laid by the Ministry of Economic Development in relation to the running of companies in the Blue Chip group.

In court, Judge Chris Field said the amount of victim impact statements from disgruntled Blue Chip investors handed to the court was approaching "telephone directory size".

The judge adjourned the hearing at the district court in Auckland for an extra 15 minutes this afternoon to give himself more time to read the nearly 100 statements he was handed today, in addition to the ones already submitted.

He said there was an  "overwhelming sense of bitterness" contained in the statements. He added that Bryers' failures had created hardship for those involved including "serious consequences for yourself".

The judge set a starting point fine of $75,000 which was reduced because of Bryers' guilty pleas and his cooperation with investigations.

He was fined $33,750 on the two main charges of failing to complete financial statements related to Northern Crest Investments Limited, formerly known as Blue Chip Financial Services.

Bryers was given 75 hours of community service on charges relating to Bribanc Property Group.

He was also fined $930 on each of four charges relating to the liquidated companies Marinc Limited, Porchester Limited and to Swordfish Lodge Management Limited.

The bitterness was clear from many investors, many of whom could not fit into the small courtroom today.

One solidly built investor said he very much wanted to spend five minutes with Bryers, in a tone of voice that suggested he wasn't talking about a chat over a cup of tea.

Another called him "scum", while others expressed disbelief at the 20 percent discount which he received for his guilty plea (a discount which Judge Field said he must apply by law following a 2009 Court of Appeal decision) and at his reported expressions of remorse.

Serious Fraud Office boss Adam Feeley said earlier this month that he was waiting on external legal advice before making a decision on whether to lay charges against Blue Chip.

Ngaire Williams, who was brought up from Tauranga by her Taumarunui-based daughter Karina, said outside court that she hoped more serious charges would be laid.

"I feel absolutely let down by the justice system," she said after today's sentencing.

"We have ended up with fresh air, nothing else."

Mrs Williams said she and her husband thought Blue Chip looked a good investment and put up their house as equity only to lose badly out of it.

She said her husband had an aneurism on his aorta and her diabetes had got worse.

"It's our health that has been affected most, and my husband's back goes out quite often. I had to put it back in for him in the court today."

Tauranga woman Carol Corner, 74, said she and her husband Keith, 83, were not enjoying "one minute of their retirement" after losing more than $400,000 in the failed Blue Chip companies.

She said it was not so much the loss of money that had upset them in their retirement years.

"It is the loss of dignity."

She said they were now living in a "far less salubrious area than we have ever lived in our lives".

She said Bryers showed no remorse at all as he sat in the dock for the two-hour hearing.

"When we saw him coming in he had a big smile on his face.

"I would have quite liked to have poked him in the eye," Mrs Corner told NZPA, as Bryers was escorted out a back door by police and into a waiting car.

Bryers is understood to be earning up to $12,000 a month in Sydney as a consultant to Northern Crest Investments and as a bankrupt his affairs are being managed by the official assignee in New Zealand.