Pensioners left broke by ex-cop

OLIVIA CARVILLE AND BLAIR ENSOR
Last updated 05:00 01/02/2014

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A former high-ranking New Zealand cop has avoided arrest from the comfort of his home in Australia as pensioners are kicked out of retirement units owned by his failed company.

A Press investigation can reveal ex-police inspector Gary William Campbell faces three active charges brought under the Retirement Villages Act 2003 regarding various failures in relation to a Christchurch retirement village his company owned. The company owes millions of dollars and according to the Companies Office is no longer trading.

Campbell fled New Zealand in June 2008, leaving behind his plush Fendalton mansion, near-new Mercedes four-wheel drive and 24 elderly residents facing eviction.

Two months later, he declared himself bankrupt from Brisbane.

A warrant was issued for Campbell's arrest in January 2009 after he refused to return home to appear in court in relation to the charges involving his alleged business dealings with Crossdale Courts retirement village.

He has never returned to New Zealand and over the past five years the residents, who each paid Campbell's business up to $120,000 for the right to occupy the units until death, or until they needed care, have been evicted one by one.

The first of the charges alleged that Campbell should have registered Crossdale Courts under the Retirement Villages Act and did not.

Campbell took off before the residents faced eviction from the homes they had bought the right to live in.

The former top cop has never apologised to the pensioners.

Now, as the last two residents face eviction, Campbell's elderly victims and their families are calling for justice.

The Press was unable to reach Campbell, despite making hundreds of phone calls, contacting numerous members of his family and door-knocking at his last known addresses in Brisbane and Christchurch.

Campbell's step-mother, Diane, 73, told The Press he should never have been allowed to leave the country while he was in financial strife. She had not heard from him since he fled.

"He left fairly quickly. We didn't know anything about it," she said.

She said she was sorry for the residents of Crossdale Courts.

Meanwhile, widow Verna Veint, 71, and Joan Leeson, 86, now have six weeks to evacuate their Crossdale homes, but both women claim they will stand their ground.

"I don't know what the devil I am going to do. I just get lost for words, I'm in a real state here," Leeson told The Press.

"I want to die here, at home, I don't want to move out. I'm not going to go without a fight and this is all because of that ratbag Campbell - he's the one to blame. He doesn't care two hoots about other people," she said.

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Debbie Scott, whose 81-year-old mother was evicted from Crossdale a few months ago, said it would be her family's "dearest wish" to see Campbell brought to justice.

"It seemed such a big crime that he was able to get away with. These people have lost thousands of dollars, their protection in later life, their homes, their health and their dignity and he is just sitting sweet over there.

"It doesn't seem right that as an ex-cop he wasn't brought to justice."

Pat Brown, 81, was also forced out of his Crossdale home last year. He said Campbell was a "coward" for not returning to New Zealand to face the charges.

"It really hurt when the dust hit the fan and he shot through like that."

Brown described Campbell as a pleasant, well-dressed man who "could sell ice to an Eskimo".

"I think I'd find it hard to accept an apology from him," Brown said. "He's just the biggest rotter from hell. It's just unbelievable."

According to various public reports, when he was declared bankrupt, Campbell and his businesses owed millions of dollars at least eight different finance companies, as well as sums to 24 Crossdale residents and a raft of private people.

Christchurch-born Campbell represented New Zealand at water polo and graduated top of his class from Police College in 1971.

While he was in the force, he owned several retirement villages and rental properties around New Zealand.

He retired in 1987 to pursue business interests.

Former police colleague and long-time friend Mike Chappell said he lost $20,000 to Campbell.

Chappell said that in total, he lent $70,000 to Campbell, who told him he would pay $400 a week in interest for the loan.

Chappell, who now works as a computer/cellphone analyst, knew Campbell from a young age, used to play on his waterpolo team and trusted him.

Chappell said he initially gave Campbell $50,000, then another $20,000. He later realised $10,000 was transferred into an account for Abbotsleigh Village, another rest home owned by one of Campbell's companies. Abbotsleigh also ran into financial difficulties.

In the early 2000s, Chappell said he would meet Campbell at the Viaduct bar in Christchurch on Friday nights. They would go to the men's toilets and Campbell would hand over $400 cash to pay him interest on the loan, he said.

When the payments stopped, Chappell said he threatened legal action and ended up getting a finance company to loan Campbell $50,000 so he could reclaim at least part of his loan. But he said he was not repaid the other $20,000.

"I realise the rest of my money's gone - I just have to kiss it goodbye. He was into so many people for so much money, all because he liked the high life," he said.

Campbell's Fendalton home was subject to two mortgages and two caveats and the Crossdale and Abbotsleigh companies were also mortgaged out to more than eight different finance companies.

When his Crossdale retirement village failed to meet mortgage payments in early 2008, his Invercargill rest home business, Abbotsleigh, also stopped paying its bills.

Doctors and suppliers stopped providing services, the milkman stopped delivering milk and staff members had to bring in bread for the residents.

Marilyn Gollop, who purchased Abbotsleigh 18 months after it went into receivership, said the staff had to "beg and borrow" to feed the residents.

When she took ownership, the rest home was "very, very run down", the equipment did not work and no maintenance had been done for years, she said.

She changed the name of the business to Waikiwi Gardens Rest Home to remove the stigma of unpaid bills.

However, the Abbotsleigh residents were protected from eviction because it operated under rest home legislation, unlike Crossdale.

Between 1999 and 2006, Campbell entered into contracts with 24 Crossdale residents who paid him interest-free loans, ranging from $35,000 and up to $120,0000, for the licence to occupy the units until death.

Campbell promised to repay their loans, less 5 per cent, when they vacated or died.

The residents also paid a maintenance fee of about $150 a week, but said Campbell never did any maintenance on the property and they were left to mow their own lawns and carry out their repairs.

Because the complex was never registered, a move that the Retirement Villages Association said would have cost Campbell $540 at the time, the residents had no protection under the Retirement Villages Act and the mortgagees were not legally obligated to honour their occupancy licences.

A High Court judgment found Campbell misled the lenders by "misrepresenting the terms on which the occupants were in residence in the units".

The judgment recorded that it seemed likely Campbell "failed to disclose" to the lender that the property ought to have been registered as a retirement village, with the constraints for a mortgagee that would follow from that.

In his credit application he said that the complex had "tremendous potential for eventual use or sale as a motel complex," the judgment read.

After Campbell fled, the Government attempted to protect the residents and used its powers to declare the complex a retirement village under the act, but this was hotly contested by the finance companies and ended up being overruled in the Supreme Court.

In 2012, a handful of the residents pleaded for the Christchurch City Council to buy the units and add them to its depleted social housing stock.

The council investigated the possibility, but decided it was uneconomical.

Former MP Jim Anderton was in Cabinet at the time Crossdale Courts unfolded and became a vocal advocate for the residents.

"From a moral point of view what Campbell did was reprehensible, but unfortunately moral viewpoints don't hold any sway in the courts of New Zealand. The law doesn't deal in morals and unfortunately the law, in this case, is inadequate to protect people from others' bad business judgments. He went broke, but they lost everything."

Retirement Villages Association executive director John Collyns said the Crossdale saga had resulted in the association strongly advising the Government to "enforce and prosecute" unregistered village operators.

"Crossdale was a long, drawn-out tragedy for the residents merely because the operator failed his legal obligations at the start and secondly because it was difficult for anyone to do anything about it," he said.

Campbell's business model of offering residents a licence to occupy units was being used by dozens of other successful retirement villages around New Zealand. His failure was not registering the complex and "abandoning" residents, Collyns said.

"It has been tragic and he is culpable for that," he said.

The warrant for Campbell's arrest was issued by the High Court on behalf of the Ministry of Economic Development (now the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment), in relation to the Retirement Villages Act 2003 charges regarding his alleged failure to register Crossdale, an allegation he did not appoint a statutory supervisor for the complex, and his alleged failure to issue a disclosure statement to the residents.

Campbell told the ministry he would not be returning to New Zealand to face the charges and an MBIE spokeswoman said he was not extradited from Australia because the charges were not serious enough.

The Serious Fraud Office declined to comment.

GARY CAMPBELL

Warrant out for the arrest of former top cop who fled to Australia.

Christchurch retirement village was struck off and residents evicted.

Invercargill rest home went bust and milkman stopped delivering.

On-loaned friends' money to "rich Asian gamblers" for high interest returns.

Millions of dollars owed to creditors, elderly residents and friends.

No apology offered to homeless pensioners.

Refuses to return to NZ to face charges. 

Additional research - Philip Creed

- The Press

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