Lover to join Ports of Auckland fraudster in jail after stealing $ 368k of taxpayer money



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The mistress of a senior manager at Ports of Auckland turned fraudulent will probably join her partner in the crime behind the bars after the pair stole more than $ 368,000 from Auckland taxpayers' money.

Litia Vuniduvu was found guilty by a jury after a two-week trial in the Auckland District Court, accused of dishonestly using a document.

She had been caught alongside former Ports of Auckland manager Paul Wayne Bainbridge when an elaborate and extensive fake invoice scheme was discovered.

The pair rigged the company owned by the Auckland Council for $ 368,842.50 over a period of three years.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on investigating the pair and legal fees at the port during the lengthy legal process, which began about two years ago.

Vuniduvu, who arrived in New Zealand from Fiji in 2007, met Bainbridge on an Internet dating site in 2012, court documents released to the Herald to reveal.

The pair were quickly involved in a romantic relationship, though Bainbridge was married.

Their lies soon turned into crime.

Bainbridge has been working in ports as a service provider since 2011 and, as of July 2012, has become the manager of its ICT services.

In office he had financial authority for multi-million dollar expenses, had the authority to approve single purchase orders and invoices of up to $ 100,000 and hire contractors for up to six months.

In December 2013, the first of several dozen fake invoices was sent to the Ports of Auckland.

They were from Vuniduvu, but under the guise of the name Aunt Rokele.

More than $ 368,000 was stolen from the Ports of Auckland on a fake invoice scheme over a three-year period. Photo / 123RF
More than $ 368,000 was stolen from the Ports of Auckland on a fake invoice scheme over a three-year period. Photo / 123RF

The first bill claimed a payment of $ 6400 – was quickly authorized by Bainbridge and paid into Vuniduvu's ASB account, which had been opened on behalf of a third party to avoid limitations imposed by visa status.

More bogus invoices kept coming in – all approved by Bainbridge, who later signed her mistress as an approved vendor.

Bainbridge also assured another Ports of Auckland employee at a time when Tia Rokele's services were needed for IT-related research, reviews, and consulting assistance.

Over the next 21 months, Bainbridge and Vuniduvu continued the trick, confident that they would not be caught.

The money was spent on Vuniduvu's clothing, travel, and business.

More invoices have been received, reaching a total of 50 before final payment is withheld. The couple had been picked up in a Deloitte audit.

Ports of Auckland senior officials were "shocked," the company said in a statement of victim impact to the court, obtained by the Herald.

Bainbridge was considered an "experienced, dignified, and professional employee" and one of the company's top positions outside the executive team.

"Mr. Bainbridge was in a position of trust, he was well paid and considered an obedient family man," the statement said.

When confronted, Bainbridge refused to offer an explanation to his employer and only claimed in his defense statement that he had declared his relationship with Vuniduvu to the chief financial officer.

But the CFO considered it a "blatant lie."

The investigation cost the Auckland Ports $ 72,241, while legal fees for ports by the end of March 2017 were $ 117,631.

It is considered that the total cost of the legal fees is a little higher to justify the accusation of Vuniduvu.

The Auckland Ports also hired Bainbridge in a civil suit to recover the stolen money.

The company spent more money on outside experts training its staff to identify and review suspicious transactions.

Bainbridge also gave her lover a phone from the Ports of Auckland and got a $ 1829 bill, according to the investigation. The phone was recovered but irreparably damaged.

"Such abuse of trust has also affected our reputation and trust between [Ports of Auckland] and our employees and our shareholder, "the statement said.

Litia Vuniduvu, pictured in the Auckland District Court on the first day of her trial. Photo / Sam Hurley
Litia Vuniduvu, pictured in the Auckland District Court on the first day of her trial. Photo / Sam Hurley

After pleading guilty, Bainbridge was arrested for three years and one month in December 2017 by Judge Brooke Gibson.

When he was sentenced, the judge said he was concerned that the fraudster had minimized his criminality by claiming that illegality was not fraud but employing his girlfriend.

"Clearly, this is completely at odds with the summary of the facts to which you have pleaded guilty and is little more than an attempt to minimize the extent of your own criminality," Judge Gibson said.

He called this a "fall from grace" to a man described by others as "a loyal and hardworking worker."

A letter of support to Bainbridge also tried to blame the Ports of Auckland, which claimed that the lack of governance practices put Bainbridge in a bad position.

"There is no one responsible for this offense other than yourself," Judge Gibson said.

"Blaming your employer for the offense is not only illogical, but it is worrisome because if this is the opinion of people of high professional or professional standing, it just emphasizes the need for deterrence and denunciation as a part. " of sentences that are imposed on people who are eventually captured and condemned. "

Bainbridge's motivation, the judge continued, was for his personal gain and for Vuniduvu.

"The abuse of trust was significant and because the employer felt that you were a responsible employee and you occupied a fairly high position, you were able to take that trust and offend in the way you did and clearly there was meditation."

The blow cost Bainbridge not only his career, but also his marriage, with Judge Gibson commenting that the fraudster seemed to have alienated his children.

Bainbridge was ordered to serve at least half of his arrest before being elected for probation.

Vuniduvu, whose initial trial was aborted last September, after new evidence, will be sentenced later this year.

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