Norris avoids jail time for theft
Disgraced Nelson liquidator Pat Norris might well have gone to prison yesterday, if not for a judge's penalty weighted in favour of justice for the Upper Moutere couple most affected by his dishonesty.
Sentencing Norris in the Nelson District Court, Judge Michael Behrens said punishment was essentially about reparation to the "substantive private creditors". The remaining organisations left out of pocket, the Inland Revenue Department and private firm Tax Planning Services, could sue Norris if they chose.
In October last year, Norris, 55, was convicted of theft by a person in a special relationship, after a two-week non-jury trial in which he represented himself. He denied the charge.
In the end, Judge Behrens agreed with the Crown that Norris had stolen $80,900 deposited into his bank account for the liquidation of Auckland-based company Astra Enterprises, and used the money for personal and business expenses.
The judge said yesterday the offending was "not particularly sophisticated", but when questions were asked, Norris went to extreme lengths to "wriggle off the hook".
"The steps you took the hide the defalcation were extraordinary."
Lawyer Garry Barkle, acting for the Crown, said yesterday that Norris did nothing of any value as far as liquidations were concerned. What was just as bad was that when he knew the balloon was up, he did "next to nothing".
Norris was sentenced to 10 months' home detention and 100 hours of community work, and ordered to pay $31,724 reparation, from a total of almost $81,000 claimed by individuals and organisations left out of pocket by his offending, including $33,000 by the IRD and $16,559 by the company formerly known as Tax Planning Services.
Mr Barkle said the couple for whom the reparation order was made, Maureen and Kelvin Manley, stood out as examples of the human impact of Norris' actions.
Despite his scepticism, Judge Behrens gave Norris the chance to earn an income through a possible role with his partner's company, providing credit control and administration services, so he could repay the Manleys, considered to be the people most seriously affected by his dishonesty.
Mr Barkle said there was potential for a contract with the Christchurch-based company, but "nothing as firm as a commitment".
Mr Barkle said it was possible that a reparation order would survive any bankruptcy Norris could find himself in.
Norris was ordered to immediately pay the Manleys $5000 available in his partner's personal bank account, and the balance at $100 a week.
Norris, described by his lawyer Steven Zindel as a "fiercely proud man", appeared solemn and resolute during yesterday's hour-long sentencing. He has been described by others in the past as having a "verbosity that demonstrated both his arrogance and his unshakeable self-belief".
"Despite his fall from grace, there are some positive signs," Mr Zindel said. He added that Norris was now a "marked man" in Nelson because of the media attention surrounding the case.
"He has learned a lot from this, and realises his place is not as a liquidator for the forseeable future.
"I conclude he has been feeling quite on the ropes as a result of the convictions and detritus from cleaning up his personal life," Mr Zindel said.
Mr Barkle said an aggravating factor was that Norris held himself to be a liquidator with some knowledge, but it was "bald-faced dishonesty" to use money received that was not for his own personal use.
He had then tried putting people off when they started making inquiries.
"That reflects the character of the prisoner," Mr Barkle said.
Judge Behrens said Norris' actions were "quite blatant", and he had thought he could get away with the offending.
He agreed with the Crown that Norris had no remorse, and that he had not wanted to repay the Manleys, and was only prepared to repay the IRD.
"Well, Mr Norris, I think you are still wriggling," Judge Behrens said.