An Auckland trader behind a $10 million Ponzi scheme has lost a final bid with the Supreme Court to be freed sooner from a prison cell.
Steven Robertson, who once claimed he was “as good as John Key”, misappropriated millions of dollars from his clients to fund a lavish lifestyle of European cars, travel by private helicopter and jet, luxury weekend getaways, and jewellery.
He was prosecuted by the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) for the crimes at his shares trading company Prosper Through Trading (PTT), where he targeted largely elderly and inexperienced people.
After being found guilty of dozens of charges, Robertson was imprisoned for six years and eight months with a non-parole period of three years and four months in 2019.
Robertson lost a challenge of his sentence at the Court of Appeal in June last year.
He then sought leave from the Supreme Court to bring a final appeal and argue no minimum period of imprisonment (MPI) should have been imposed. He did not seek to challenge his prison term.
He raised the question about the use of MPIs where an offender poses little or no risk to the community and said the effect is arbitrary.
However, the country’s top court today issued its judgment and dismissed Robertson’s leave application.
“We consider the proposed appeal has insufficient prospects of success to justify granting leave to appeal. In any event, as the applicant accepts, these issues were not squarely addressed in the appeal to the Court of Appeal,” the court comprising of Justices Susan Glazebrook, Mark O’Regan and Ellen France said.
“Rather, the appeal focused on the justification for the imposition of the MPI in the applicant’s case. The absence of any consideration of the issues by the Court of Appeal also points against leave being granted.”
The judges said, on the material before them, there was no risk of a miscarriage of justice arising out of the Court of Appeal’s assessment of the imposition of an MPI.
Robertson, who was also involved in the gold markets, is eligible for parole in 2023.
At the High Court at Auckland in 2019, Justice Sarah Katz had found Robertson guilty of 23 charges of theft by a person in a special relationship, 11 counts of the obtaining by deception charges and four charges of dishonestly using a document.
The unauthorised and unregistered financial adviser, who defended the charges during the lengthy judge-alone trial, was also found not guilty of six charges.
Investors had believed their money would be traded on their behalf or paid as consideration for the purported purchase of shares in PTT or an associated entity.
Between 2009 and 2015 Robertson also operated various companies, including PTT, to assist clients to share and trade on the New Zealand and Australian markets.
In essence, however, he was operating what the FMA described as a $10m Ponzi scheme.
Most of the 22 victims lost most if not all of their invested money – about NZ$1.2m and A$271,200.
Justice Katz said Robertson knew what he was doing was unlawful and set out to create a false paper trail to disguise the reality of what was occurring.
“The investors were generally unperturbed about the precise terms of the documents they signed, but instead relied on their verbal dealings with Mr Robertson,” she said in her decision.
“They were generally simple, honest, people who had worked hard all their lives and were keen to generate a little extra retirement income from their limited savings. They trusted that Mr Robertson was a man of his word.”
After Robertson stole his victims’ money, he generally distanced himself from the investors and became extremely difficult to contact.
When they did manage to reach him, he would either evade the issue, promise to send an update on their investment – which never arrived – or simply assure them that their investments were doing very well. On some occasions he would persuade an investor to contribute further funds, including in what he called VIP trading where he would purportedly trade on behalf of clients.
In December, the High Court also approved a pro-rata distribution for creditors of PTT, Robertson and his associated entities. Receivers and liquidators estimate the victims will likely receive 59.52 cents in the dollar.
Sadly, however, some of PTT’s clients fell victim again to one of Robertson’s former colleagues, Rodney McCall.
Also known as Rod Richard Makatea and Rodney Crichton, McCall described himself as a “senior financial analyst” and experienced “trader” who worked for PTT from February 2015 to August 2015 selling share trading packages.
After PTT was placed into receivership in 2015, McCall began to cold-call Robertson’s clients and scam them again, the Herald revealed last year.
The cash he extracted – about $70,000 – was spent on online gambling, food, alcohol, rent and phone and internet bills.
He was sentenced to 12 months’ home detention in December after pleading guilty to two representative charges of obtaining by deception, one representative charge of dishonestly using a document, and two charges of obstruction of the FMA’s powers under the Financial Markets Authority Act.
McCall was also barred by the judge from being involved in the handling of money, giving financial advice, applying for a credit card or loan, and engaging in the affairs of any business, trust or entity unless approved by a probation officer.
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