'Poor little rich boy' gets home detention

REBECCA STEVENSON AND MATT NIPPERT
Last updated 05:00 01/12/2012

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A "budding" Auckland property developer has been sentenced to nine months' home detention for his role in a scheme to short-change creditors of bankrupt insurance broker Marcus Friedlander.

Ralph Anthony Vuletic was sentenced in the High Court at Auckland this week after pleading guilty to forging documents, using documents to obtain a pecuniary interest and perverting the course of justice. He faced 25 charges brought by the Serious Fraud Office under the Crimes Act.

Vuletic was the accomplice of convicted fraudster Friedlander. In 2003 the duo created a false backdated paper trail for the sale and purchase of an Albany property owned by Vuletic.

The pair also created a fake "acknowledgment of debt". These were attempts to increase support for Friedlander's creditors' proposal and avoid bankruptcy, the SFO said.

Friedlander needed 50 per cent of his creditors to accept a deal to pay them a portion of every dollar owed. The scheme failed and Friedlander was bankrupted in 2003.

Crown prosecutor John Dixon said Vuletic would serve his sentence at a West Auckland property.

He said the court had adopted a sentencing starting point of 30 months. This had been discounted because of Vuletic's guilty plea, personal circumstances and relative youth at the time of the offending. Vuletic is 31.

The SFO described Vuletic as "a budding property developer whose family owned valuable sections of land in Auckland".

In an earlier sentencing indication hearing, Vuletic's lawyer, Peter Winter, pleaded for leniency and said his client suffered from growing up in a wealthy family.

"Vuletic's father died when he was in his early teens. He was brought up by his mother. There were expectations of Vuletic that he was unable to fulfil," Winter said.

SFO prosecutor John Dixon was dismissive of Vuletic's claimed "psychological problems". "There is a little bit of ‘poor little rich boy' about that," he said.

Winter said his client was only 22 at the time of the offending and he had let himself be carried along by his older and more experienced co-accused, who flaunted his wealth and appeared successful.

Fellow offender Friedlander was a 58-year-old insurance broker and property developer based on Waiheke Island.

Vuletic burst on to the Auckland property scene in 2002 as a 22-year-old associating with well-known, and now fallen, property developers David Henderson, Andrew Krukziener and Nigel McKenna.

At the time he told a legal newsletter about his new Ferrari: "In this industry [youth] can work against you. Cars speak plainly about success. People seem to be more impressed by what you drive than what you save," he said.

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Vuletic caught the public eye in 2006 when he attempted to evict 11 residents from pensioner flats in Orewa in order to redevelop the properties.

The Tenancy Tribunal ordered Vuletic to pay $12,000 to each of the residents after it ruled that he failed to complete reasonable maintenance work and served illegal eviction notices.

Winter told the court Vuletic was now remorseful and was unemployed.

His family wealth has withered in recent times, with family matriach Ita Vuletic, Ralph's mother, bankrupted in 2009 owing more than $11m.

The bankruptcy followed years of court action by creditors, and a fire that destroyed a Vuletic-owned property in October 2008 just days before a mortgagee sale.

A high-profile Auckland law firm the SFO investigated in relation to the offending had its ties to the case suppressed.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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