Conman's trail of deception

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 05:00 25/01/2014
 Pita Edwards
CONMAN CORNERED: Pita Edwards appears in Wellington District Court.

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Only a week after being freed from prison, a conman talked his way into a Wellington medical school, burgled Victoria University and a government department - then billed it for his takeaways.

Pita Phillip Edwards, 26, was out of prison for just 16 days before being caught. In that time, he managed to pose as a doctor and a top lawyer during a high-profile crime spree.

Police were alerted to his trail of deception when a Corrections officer spotted him in Wellington Hospital with a stethoscope around his neck.

A week later he was caught on security cameras at the Department of Internal Affairs.

Yesterday, Edwards pleaded guilty to more than a dozen burglary and dishonesty charges.

He was freed from prison on November 12 last year after serving a two-year, four-month term for fraud and burglary.

According to the police summary of facts, he spent the fortnight that followed talking his way into Wellington buildings, where he stole anything he could get his hands on and even tried to crack a safe.

His ability to talk his way into exclusive premises prompted police to label him a "catch me if you can" criminal, in the style of American trickster Frank Abagnale.

Police finally caught up with Edwards when he tried to bank a stolen cheque on November 28. According to the summary of facts, he banked a cheque for $1050 that day, in the name of media law expert Steven Price, whose signature he forged.

Yesterday, Edwards pleaded guilty in Wellington District Court to 12 charges of burglary, one of unlawfully being in a building, breaching his prison release conditions, obtaining by deception, and unlawfully using a document.

From the dock, he winked in the direction of the public gallery before his charges were read.

Edwards has more than 150 previous convictions, beginning in the Youth Court. Parole Board documents describe his criminal history as extraordinary.

The police summary outlined how Edwards talked his way past a maintenance man into the Internal Affairs building and used phones and computers to convince staff he belonged there. During the course of that weekend, he took access cards and returned to the building to take more than $10,000 of personal items.

That weekend he also went to Roti Chennai restaurant, where he billed his $70 takeaway to Internal Affairs, before using its taxi chits to travel around Wellington.

He talked an Otago Medical School student into letting him into a secure locker-room, where he took a stethoscope he was later seen wearing at Wellington Hospital. He was also seen in the Weltec School of Hospitality by a security guard, whom he deceived into believing he worked there. He took identity cards and keys from a cleaner.

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At the Victoria Law School, he took a cash register from an office, gaining access cards and a master key to the campus. He also stole personal items, electronics and $11,000 in cash.

He then used the master key to get into Vic Books, where he tried to get into a safe. He used the master key to access Victoria's Kelburn campus, resulting in more than 350 locks having to be replaced, at a cost of more than $30,000. He also took about 50 students' transcripts, which included credit card details.

The university contacted the affected students and alerted the privacy commissioner's office, chief operating officer Andrew Simpson said. Victoria had made "operational changes" since Edwards' offending. "This was a serious crime that impacted on staff and students, and we are pleased the matter is being resolved before the courts."

Some Internal Affairs staff's property had been recovered, a spokesman said.

Judge Peter Hobbs remanded Edwards in custody until March for sentencing.

- The Dominion Post

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