A man who says he has $4.50 in the bank has been fined $45,000 and ordered to pay $26,368 back to the customers he cheated with his Elton John concert travel arrangements.
Blenheim-man Roger Sutherland, 72, now lives in rental accommodation and his sole source of income is National Superannuation.
He told his defence counsel Andrew Riches today that he had $50 in cash and virtually nothing in the bank. He is in poor health and has repeatedly failed to turn up to court sittings in Christchurch this year.
Sutherland claims he actually made a loss out of the 2011 venture, for which he had to pay for bus transport and meals at the Oamaru Workingmen's Club for the travellers.
The Fair Trading Act prosecutions by the Commerce Commission had to be done by formal proof without Sutherland present, and he was convicted in October on 11 charges.
He was told recently about his sentencing today, but could not attend that either.
Prosecutor John Dixon of the Commerce Commission in Auckland said Sutherland made a profit of over $26,000 by accepting the Christchurch-to-Dunedin rail bookings from customers for an Elton John concert and then switched to buses in the last few days. More than 200 people had booked.
It was then too late for customers to make other arrangements. Those sold "celebration class" tickets which promised extra benefits, got nothing more than the other passengers.
Customers copped extra fees for credit card payments and courier fees which were not disclosed, and they were refused refunds when they wanted to pull out.
Riches said the venture had begun with "wishful thinking" and the failure was a result of recklessness rather than deliberate deceit, but Christchurch District Court Judge Paul Kellar did not accept that.
He said that Sutherland had continued to accept bookings and payments after he knew that KiwiRail was unable to provide a charter train because of commitments to cruise ship visits.
He also noted that Sutherland had a history of cancelling rail bookings at a late stage and replacing them with bus services.
Many of the customers would have been elderly and would have found the return bus journey to Dunedin much less comfortable than a rail trip would have been. It also meant they were faced with an extra accommodation bill in Dunedin.
Riches had asked for the sentencing to be delayed so that Mr Sutherland could attend, but that was opposed by the Commerce Commission.
Dixon said Sutherland had not attended any of the seven court sessions this year. He had had up to five different lawyers during this process.
"He is a recidivist hirer and firer of counsel and he does not turn up to court. He has not respected the court's process in this case," he said.
Judge Kellar reduced the fine because of Sutherland's circumstances, but he said he had made a profit of about $26,000 from a package he could not deliver.
He accepted a Commerce Commission submission that "profiting from deliberately false statements must be discouraged".
The concert took place in November 2011. At the time he was charged, Sutherland was described as the director and Racing Tours and Promotions Australasia Ltd.
Judge Kellar said Sutherland had a history of being unreliable and KiwiRail had put a formal protocol in place that he was obliged to follow before he could charter a train. Although he had contacted KiwiRail he had not booked any charter and no carriages were allocated to him. Even so, he had continued to accept bookings and payments from customers.
- The Press