High-flying pair take flight

BLAIR ENSOR
Last updated 05:00 14/06/2014
Fraud suspects
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WANTED: Paul James Bennett, right, and his partner, Simone Anne Wright.

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Mark * thought "David Kite" was his friend.

It took two years and $250,000 before he realised that he wasn't. He wasn't even David Kite. His name was Paul James Bennett and he had ripped off his Canterbury helicopter company, Mark alleges.

Police want to speak to the 51-year-old Bennett in connection with an ongoing investigation into the allegations.

However, he has disappeared with his partner, Simone Anne Wright, 37, after Mark, a millionaire businessman, queried him last month about invoices he believed were fake.

There is a warrant out for their arrest. Detectives have acknowledged the couple came to their attention some years ago, but they've been unable to locate them.

An investigation by The Press over the past week has found that police may have come face-to-face with the pair a number of times in Australia and New Zealand in recent years.

On one occasion, Bennett was pulled over during a roadside breath-test in Tauranga but slipped through undetected, a source has confirmed.

They have spent time in Nelson, Wanaka and Christchurch since 2011. In each location, they lived in fully furnished, high-end rental accommodation and it appears were able to avoid paying a bond.

The couple traded in Rolex watches online and often through Trade Me. They've imported and sold the expensive timepieces to some of the country's business elite.

They've also facilitated repairs, which is how Mark first came to meet "Dennis Kite". He thought nothing of it when, over the phone, he says he was told to call him Dave, because that was his preferred name.

He seemed genuine, friendly and knowledgeable, Mark says.

The pair's first encounter was outside a three-bedroom rental property in Morrows Mead, Wanaka, in 2012.

A short, stocky man wearing jeans and a T-shirt strolled outside to greet Mark as he pulled into the driveway on his Harley Davidson.

Mark was there to drop off his Rolex, which had broken down.

The pair got talking and, during the conversation, Mark says, Dave mentioned he had 8500 hours experience flying helicopters.

They were soon joined by "Sarah Kite", who had been having a massage inside.

Sarah was "stand-offish" and Mark says that, when he tried to take a photo of her next to a rare silver BMW parked in the driveway, she put her hand up and ran inside.

He says Dave explained that his partner had been stalked while living in Australia and did not like her picture being taken.

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Mark was never invited inside, he says.

It was months before the pair would speak again. They would eventually spark up a relationship which would lead to Dave buying parts and helicopters for a company owned by Mark.

Dave and Sarah moved to Christchurch about a year ago and lived at a $900-a-week fully furnished rental property in Linden Gr, Middleton.

It wasn't until May 6 that Mark says he noticed irregularities with invoices and realised something wasn't right. He says he phoned Dave to query him about the paperwork, which he believed had been digitally manipulated.

"His [Dave's] last words to me on the telephone was, ‘It's an MYOB [accounting software] problem with a computer of the company, give me two days and I'll have it sorted'," according to Mark.

Mark says he travelled to Christchurch on May 8 after he was unable to make further contact with Dave.

"I went straight to his house that night. The doors were locked and the blinds were pulled tight but I could see some of my items [helicopter parts] in the garage."

According to their landlord, Dave and Sarah had emailed her husband to say they were going on holiday. A complaint was lodged with police on May 10.

Two weeks later, the landlord says there was mail for the couple in the letterbox and many of their personal belongings were still inside.

However, when investigators searched the property on May 26, the place had been emptied and cleaned and the garage-door remote and keys left in the letterbox, the landlord says.

By then Mark says he had discovered David and Sarah Kite, a couple he had come to know as friends, were in fact Paul Bennett and Simone Wright.

Bennett was born in Waikato and has a long reported history of eluding police, here and abroad.

Documents reveal he changed his name by deed poll to Paul John Williams.

He once talked his way into becoming the helicopter pilot for Hollywood actor Russell Crowe but was later found to not have a licence, it was reported.

Russell Bennett says his older brother has been disowned by his family.

"My parents are very straight-up people - we're all honest - and he's just a black sheep."

Mark has offered a $10,000 reward for information that leads to their conviction.

Police have appealed for sightings of the pair and their silver BMW, registration, GGN840.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has also confirmed it is investigating a complaint about Bennett, which was lodged on May 14.

His private pilot's licence was revoked in 2006, the authority says.

"The CAA is aware of multiple aliases used by Mr Bennett and this was one of the factors considered at the time his licence was revoked."

Emails obtained by The Press show the couple lived at a property in Appleby, near Nelson, before they moved to a $650-a-week rental property with a view of Lake Wanaka in about September 2011. At the time, they owned a campervan.

The property manager says they told him their new home in Christchurch was damaged in the earthquakes and any repairs were at least a year away.

"We are a quiet, non-smoking couple, very clean and tidy and very respectful, my hubby is an ex-farm boy so he can put his hand to anything and he would keep your place spic and span (sic)," Sarah Kite says in an email.

According to the property manager, the couple later explained they were unable to lodge a bond with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment because, among other reasons, it might prevent their house from being repaired on an emergency basis.

In a separate email, Dave explained that he worked for a company in Australia and designed racing engines. Sarah had been made redundant because the company she worked for was in the red zone.

The property manager says they were a low-key couple who paid rent on time and never caused any problems.

Residents in the area say they rarely saw Dave and Sarah, who spent a lot of time inside the home with the blinds drawn.

Some say they often heard the pair shouting at each other inside.

Morrows Mead resident Gilda Cameron says the yelling she overheard one day was so bad she called police. She says a patrol car visited the property but no-one was arrested.

"I just can't believe it and I can't believe I called the police and they came around and didn't do anything," Cameron says.

"I hope they find them."

- The Press

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