Pair who defrauded wananga unmasked

BELINDA FEEK
Last updated 05:00 07/02/2014

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Margaret Grace Wood and her estranged husband, Ian Ellis Wood, can now be named as the couple who ripped off an educational organisation for more than $130,000.

Wood and her now-former husband were both sentenced to 12 months of home detention in December for stealing $132,000 from Te Wananga O Aotearoa between 2008 and 2009. The couple have had name suppression since being charged in March 2012.

They planned to appeal Judge David Ruth's decision on December 4 not to grant permanent name suppression but their lawyers both withdrew their appeals last week.

At the sentencing in December, Crown prosecutor Louella Dunn said the amount stolen from the contracts awarded was $220,000.

That was eventually brought down to $132,000 to allow for the fact some work had been completed on the contracts.

In opposing name suppression at the time, Ms Dunn said the public needed to know as a matter of "open justice" what the couple had got up to and what had happened as a result.

Dunn said Margaret Wood was a very intelligent and educated woman who had defrauded her employer for eight months.

However, there was concern at the time after the prosecution learned Wood had "reinvented herself" as a life coach for Jigsaw Coaching, owned by her son-in-law, Jason McDowell.

A search of the Companies Office by the Waikato Times showed Jigsaw Coaching had now ceased trading, with a notice published on January 23 with the intention to remove it from the register.

As for Ian Wood, after being convicted on December 5, he started taking steps to get one of his companies up and running. On December 6, he changed the name of Coachouse New Zealand Ltd, to Specialist Counselling Services Ltd.

By December 23 he had signed up a relative as co-director. Wood has since gained new employment as a part-time counsellor for Te Runanga o Kirikiriroa Trust, which is believed to be aware of his background. But learning of Margaret Wood's "reinvention" was one of the key factors for Judge Ruth declining permanent name suppression.

Wood's role as a senior curriculum designer at Te Wananga O Aotearoa meant she had access to accounts and contracts, and had influence in the outsourcing of curriculum design work.

Around the start of her employment, she promoted a company - Stand Forward Consultancy Ltd - of which her son, Matthew Waight, was the director. She suggested the company as "possible contractors" for work, describing them as a "quality provider".

The company was eventually given several separate contracts which were supposed to be signed by Waight.

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However, Wood signed all of them herself - but in his name. Te Wananga appointed her contract manager, based on the premise that she supposedly had no personal involvement or conflict of interest.

In each instance, Wood "circumvented" invoices that were destined for her manager, signing them off herself before also stating that her supervisor had given approval.

However, that approval was never given. Dunn said Ian Wood's pre-sentence report showed he had an "inflated sense of entitlement".

The fact he thought his work was "finished to a high standard simply showed the lack of insight into these matters".

Dunn described the work provided by Ian Wood as "of a woeful standard".

The pair were convicted on five charges of using a document and one charge of obtaining by deception, with the offending spanning several months in 2008 and 2009.

Dunn said the pair's deception was eventually uncovered when Margaret Wood went on leave. It was then that "discrepancies emerged into the awarding of contracts . . .

"And the contracts that had been paid for by incorrect approval by [Margaret Wood]."

Wood's lawyer, Roger Laybourn, said his client admitted she committed fraud but she did so "under the manipulation . . . under assurances from [her husband] that these things are legal, are OK".

Ian Wood's lawyer, Kerry Burroughs, said his client had, up until this, led a "blameless life and is willing to take responsibility".

Judge Ruth expressed his "real concern" about Margaret Wood's new venture.

"Those that would seek to deal with her or become involved in a commercial basis . . . should be entitled to know the background of the person they are intending to deal [with] and that is a matter which does weigh with me."

SHAME AND BETRAYAL

In Te Wananga O Aotearoa's victim impact statement, a director wrote of the "shame" and "betrayal" that the couple's offending caused.

"She was capable in her employment and gained the trust of all with whom she worked . . . when she left . . . there was a huge sadness and dismay . . . once they had known what she had done."

A wananga spokesman said the police were called as soon its internal systems uncovered the fraud.

"We are disappointed by the actions of a former employee who abused the trust placed in them. We continue to review and improve our systems and processes to ensure we are doing all we can to eliminate the potential for fraud against our organisation."

The wananga has received $55,000 in reparation.

- Waikato Times

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