Conman back behind bars

A conman who pretended to be a millionaire to lure Christchurch schoolboys into sex acts has spent his time on parole allegedly running an Auckland nightclub.

Nicholas Birch, 26, was recalled into Corrections custody on Tuesday, during a Fairfax investigation into his alleged business activity.

He was last week under guard at Dunedin Hospital, apparently being treated for a medical condition, and his Karangahape Rd bar has shut down.

Birch was jailed in 2010 on fraud charges and offences under the Companies and Insolvency Acts while he lived in Christchurch.

He claimed to be a rich businessman and falsely promised young Christchurch men $10,000 to $50,000 in return for sex acts.

He backed up his story with flash cars and expensive apartment furnishings bought with dud cheques, and he pretended to own a Christchurch bar.

Four 16-year-olds and a 19-year-old succumbed to the ruse, only to find later that Birch's cheques had bounced or the bank deposit receipts he provided were fakes.

At his sentencing, Judge Stephen Erber called Birch "a conman" whose risk of reoffending was "considerable".

Birch, who was declared bankrupt in 2008, was released on parole in October 2011. He reported to a Dunedin parole officer, but was permitted to travel to do work with racehorses.

Birch is prohibited from being involved, either directly or indirectly, in the management or promotion of a company until 2015.

But the Sunday Star-Times learnt of at least two business ventures linked to Birch in the last year - the most recent Revenge nightclub on Auckland's Karangahape Rd. It shut down last week, after Birch allegedly amassed debts to contractors and staff.

Bar owners in the area said Birch, who gave his name as "Nick" or his alias "Nick McLennan", turned up "like a whirlwind" and acted "like a millionaire". He claimed he owned a bar in Dunedin and wanted to break into the Auckland scene, one said.

Companies Office documents show the club is officially owned by former Shortland St actor Rudi Vodanovich, under the company name Lupo Investments Ltd. However, Vodanovich, who played nightclub DJ Holden Smith on the TV show, denied being the owner when contacted. He said the owner's name was "Nick" - a "good friend" he was "helping out".

Further inquiries found Birch approached prominent Auckland businessman and harness racing stud farm owner John Street for financial help. Street said he met Birch through a friend a few weeks ago, and he understood Birch was Revenge Bar's "operator".

Street said he had no tie to the bar, but had agreed to pay some of Birch's outstanding debts. He said about $70,000 was owing to contractors who did the fit-out, and bar staff. "I've put a little bit of money in," Street said.

Street said he expected to get his money back, but conceded he had "probably been sucked in a bit".

An old news story about Birch's fraud offending, which included his photo, has started circulating on social media.

"As far as I was concerned it [Revenge] was his bar and he ran it," said Chris Yates, who sold his lease on part of the property to Lupo Investments. "When I . . . saw the newspaper article, and saw his photograph, then I realised. People have lost a lot of money in this venture . . . it shouldn't have been allowed to happen."

Building property manager Jared Halligan, of Masfen Group, did not return calls.

Meanwhile, police have received a complaint about Birch from a New Plymouth horse stud owner.

Cairnlea Stud Bloodstock and Dakota Bloodstock director Rob Lewis claims Birch ran the business then skipped town leaving the company about $45,000 in debt. Lewis said he met Birch through a mutual friend and now regretted putting his name on official documents. "He can talk the talk," Lewis said.

Department of Corrections southern region commissioner Ian Bourke said the interim recall to prison was granted for Birch on Tuesday on the basis he posed an "undue risk".

"As a result, he will face charges in relation to alleged breaches of his parole conditions."

Vodanovich said he would pursue legal action against Birch.

Sunday Star Times