The 'eco warrior princess' whose failed business ventures have left a trail of angry investors
To former restaurateur Erwin Zimmet, it seemed like the perfect recipe – a business start-up that would take on the popular My Food Bag with healthier offerings.
The woman behind it, Angela Merrie, was articulate and glamorous, shown on social media rubbing shoulders with stuntwoman friend Zoe Bell and Hollywood director Quentin Tarantino.
But the venture failed before it started and now Zimmet is one of several people – including former close friends – chasing Merrie for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
A Stuff investigation has found that Merrie and her father have a history of failed waste-to-energy related businesses that have left investors here and overseas out of pocket.
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She and her father, Alan Merrie, will appear in the Tauranga District Court next month for sentencing on charges relating to more than 100,000 tyres they failed to remove from sites in Kawerau and Waihi, the fallout from a failed recycling project.
Having pleaded guilty to breaching an abatement notice, they face a maximum sentence of two years' jail or a $300,000 fine.
Angela and Alan Merrie did not respond to multiple messages. At their rented Mt Maunganui property, they left in a car, ignoring questions.
NO DAMN GOOD
Zimmet, of Auckland, is chasing Angela Merrie for $100,000 after he invested in Pretty Damn Good For You, the company Angela set up to take on My Food Bag.
She initially impressed him after she came to him in October, 2015 saying she wanted to start up something like My Food Bag, only healthier.
"She was so enthusiastic, and she wanted to get everything underway for Christmas.
"The concept was good. My Food Bag was doing very well, but I'd heard complaints it had too much starch and sugar. I thought 'great, let's get this going'."
Merrie wanted $100,000 upfront. Zimmet offered her $50,000 and $50,000 later.
"Angela persisted. So in November, 2015 I gave her $100,000." For that, he got a 15 per cent stake in the company.
Since then, he's seen nothing of the business. The website has been shut down, as well as the bank accounts and Facebook page.
He says Merrie has promised to return the money but he doubts he'll see it.
In a text message in May, she told a convoluted story of delays with foreign banks as the reason she couldn't repay the investment.
"Last night they said to allow up to three weeks for the money to be in NZ, so I'm expecting the week of the 22nd. Nearly there," she wrote.
Grant Jackson, who runs a glass service business, met Merrie when he was repairing her broken window.
She was a good talker, he says, describing her vision for Pretty Damn Good For You.
"She likes to portray herself as an eco-warrior princess – she's going to save the planet."
Jackson says he's a casual investor. "If it looks good I'll put a bit of money in. I probably didn't look hard enough at this."
He invested $50,000, which gave him a 5 per cent stake in the company.
"She kept on saying, 'I'm getting all this money from these Swiss investors, they're going to be putting money into my dad's tyre business'."
Although she and a chef started writing recipes, it became clear nothing much was happening.
In August last year Merrie said she was getting low on cash, so Jackson offered her a $10,000 short-term loan, at 10 per cent interest.
"I could never catch up with her to counter-sign it, she was always evasive," he says.
"Then in February she sat me down and said 'I'm going to have to give it away – you'll get your money back'. She was going to buy the shares back and liquidate the business."
Chef Angus McLean says Merrie owes him $6500 in wages and the dispute is now before the Employment Court.
McLean says she hired him and a colleague to work in a test kitchen, developing vegan dishes.
McLean was working full-time on the project. But after a few months, he and his colleague started to have doubts. "We weren't sure what the goal was and what we were working towards. Angela was present, but there wasn't much guidance."
When questioned, Angela would say she was having problems: Food suppliers were worried they wouldn't be able to meet the demand her business would generate, she would say.
At the same time, she was talking about the business being a big success both locally and in the US, "and still the website was inactive," McLean says.
Then came the crunch. The day before he was due to take three weeks' leave, Merrie called him in. "She says, 'I've been having a really hard time. I've decided to pull pretty Damn Good For You and concentrate on helping my dad with the family business'."
She told McLean he could take his leave as redundancy. He disputed that.
Merrie told him the money was held up in a Swiss investment account. That was 11 months ago. "Angela was always trying to talk herself up. She would make out like she was on to a huge thing. But part of me now thinks she does not know what she's doing."
Zimmet says when Merrie first made her pitch she told him she didn't have any money and needed his help.
Soon after he invested, she popped up on Instagram. "She's red-carpeting in the US with Quentin Tarantino and Zoe Bell," he says.
If alarm bells didn't ring then, they soon did. Merrie returned from the US to say the launch of Pretty Damn Good For You would be delayed because she needed to complete her last nutrition exams. Then there were delays due to packaging and branding.
About a year ago, she told him she had decided to ditch the original proposal and do an app-based concept: one that was organic, sugar- and dairy-free.
More time passed. And then Merrie told Zimmet her father wanted her to work for a Swiss environmental funds business and that she would sell Pretty Damn Good For You.
"I said to her: 'Angela, what is there to sell?'"
A MOUNTAIN OF TYRES
Pretty Damn Good For You is not the only Merrie family project to disappear in a heap of broken promises.
A Christchurch investor claims to be $840,000 out of pocket after a failed venture involving selling waste-to-energy plants in Poland, while a New York investor says he lost $450,000 in a similar venture.
Alan, a discharged bankrupt, were involved in a debacle involving 150,000 tyres which Hamilton City Council had paid $250,000 to a family company, EcoVersion, to remove.
They started having the tyres carted to Kawerau, where they convinced the local council they were to import a tyre shredding machine from China and process the tyres for use in roads. Local jobs would be created, they said.
In a crowd-sourcing Youtube video still available online, Angela Merrie gives an impassioned plea for donations for projects in California and New Zealand that would turn waste tyres and plastics into fuel. She was aiming for $200,000, but raised only $2546.
Councillor Rex Savage raised the alarm early on, but says his fellow councillors wouldn't listen.
"He [Alan Merrie] was going to buy this plant from China and he needed 750,000 tyres straight away. I said 'what a load of crap ... you build the plant before the product'."
In the end, the machinery never arrived, and the council was left with a mountain of tyres on its land, although it was able to retain a $250,000 bond.
"He gets paid a lot of money, brings the tyres here and then buggers off," Savage says.
He says he received a call from people in the US who'd had similar dealings with Alan Merrie.
Several individuals and businesses have been left out of pocket because of the tyre venture.
Darrin Hawkes of Mainstream Engineering says his firm was designing the proposed tyre processing plant in Kawerau but ended up having a Merrie company, EcoVersion Logistics, put into liquidation over unpaid bills. The amount owed is now $47,000, Hawkes says.
"Alan was making promises he would pay. He was blaming his business partners for putting the handbrake on funding ... he assured us we'd still be paid."
Chris Browne-Cole of Mangatawhiri in Waikato says he's owed about $30,000 in lease payments for about 1000 tonnes of tyres Merrie stored on his property.
Brian Wynne of ContainerCo says they're owed about $30,000 for the lease of shipping containers to transport and store some of the tyres.
And Shannon Barrington, director of E-Freight Logging, says he's owed about $32,000 for carting tyres from Hamilton to Kawerau.
"We're only a small company, it was a pretty hard time for us – you go to some pretty dark places."
At one point he considered dumping the tyres at the Merrie home. "Probably if I did go and do something, I wouldn't have stopped."
In 2015, Angela Merrie said EcoVersion was "in the final stages of buying innovative equipment from China" and deposits had been paid.
The plant would have the capacity to process 10,000 tones of tyres a year, she claimed.
When concerns were raised about huge mountains of tyres appearing on land near Taupo and at a quarry in Waihi, she told RNZ's Kathryn Ryan they would be removed.
They weren't, and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council slapped the Merries with an abatement notice, which led to the court charges.
A GOOD TALKER
Jackson, the investor who lost more than $50,000 on Pretty Damn Good For You, warns anyone considering dealing with Angela Merrie to think again.
"She fancies herself as a bit of a celebrity. I've been to her house when Zoe Bell's been there, it's all part of her image.
"She's such a good talker, you think 'she'll be right'.
"She said 'I've hurt a few people, I've got to pay them back', but she's two-faced."
- Sunday Star Times