Wellington foodbank probed for fraud

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 28/02/2014

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A Wellington foodbank is being investigated for fraud, after it was deemed to be involved in "serious wrongdoing".

The Wellington Foodbank Service - not associated with the one run by the Wellington City Mission - has also now been stripped of its charitable status, with the Department of Internal Affairs advising major donors not to hand over more money.

The bulk of existing donations appear to be have disappeared, as liquidators find the charity's bank accounts emptied and almost nothing of value in its Wellington CBD offices.

The department has alleged in court documents filed late last year that the foodbank spent donations on junk food, booze and electronics, while giving only a fraction to the hungry.

Only 4 per cent of $770,000 donated to the charity went to helping the needy, the department said.

Most of the money donated was missing or had been paid to the foodbank's fundraiser, Wellingtonian Michael Hawkins, who made numerous ATM withdrawals, it said. On paper, Mr Hawkins was contracted only to fundraise, but the department believes he was the founder, controller and main beneficiary of the charity.

Mr Hawkins, who was declared bankrupt in May last year, again denied any wrongdoing yesterday, blaming others involved in the charity.

Brendon Ward, general manager of the department's charities services, said the foodbank had been stripped of its charitable status permanently for "serious wrongdoing".

"If people are approached specifically by the Wellington Foodbank, I would not donate to them," he said.

He would not comment on what the charity had done, but said evidence of allegedly unlawful dealings had now been referred to Inland Revenue and police.

A police spokesman confirmed the charity was being investigated for fraud and other possible offences.

The foodbank stopped operating in September last year, with unpaid rent on its office and growing scrutiny from authorities.

However, a liquidators' report showed that, soon after the Wellington Foodbank shut down, another company was set up, called Wellington Food Angels. The intention was to continue to run a foodbank under the new entity, the report said.

Both organisations have since been placed into liquidation.

Liquidator Jeremy Morley, of PricewaterhouseCoopers, said there was no trace of hundreds of thousands of dollars donated by the public in either entity.

Apart from the few leftover food parcels, and some nearly worthless office equipment, there appeared to be nothing of value left, he said.

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- The Dominion Post

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