‘Fugitive conned me too’ – local artist


A Queenstown artist allegedly stung by smooth-talking fugitive Paul Bennett is delighted he’s finally been caught.

Julian Ford says Bennett commissioned a $700 painting of a helicopter from him early last year.

Bennett, a pilot and sailor, told Ford the painting was a gift for his employer - HeliPower director Mike Jacomb.

That’s the same Jacomb who later fronted a $50,000 reward for Bennett, claiming he’d defrauded him of $250,000.

“He commissioned the painting and then never got back to me,” Ford says.

“I saw his photo in the Otago Daily Times, read he’s gone to ground, and that’s when I realised - ‘ah, I’m not going to get paid for this job’.

“I was obviously one of the smaller ones stung but $700 is $700.”

Bennett and his partner Simone Wright, wanted over the alleged fraud and also in connection with sex charges, spent 10 months on the run.

New South Wales police caught them on board a stolen $150,000 yacht in Sydney, Australia, on Monday night.

Police say it’s too early to say whether they’ll be extradited.

“I’m not expecting the money - I’d imagine there’ll be a long queue,” Ford says.

“I’ve still got the painting and I contacted the helicopter firm’s owner. He loved it but didn’t want to buy it.”

Queenstown car club president Ford says he met Bennett when he owned a car wash and Bennett would bring in his BMW.

“He was a real salesman, he could talk his way round anything.

“He’d come in his BMW, which he was pretty particular about, and we’d talk about helicopters and rallying.

“We arranged a price and he commissioned the painting.

“I’m pleased they’ve got him because I’m obviously not the only one.”

Bennett’s chequered history included being a helicopter pilot for actor Russell Crowe, despite not holding a valid licence.