Queenstown chopper pilot’s Heliworks fraud

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A Queenstown helicopter pilot has admitted scamming his former employer for $31,000 to fund family holidays, life insurance and his personal bank account.

Helicopter pilot David Maxwell Kershaw, 58, yesterday pleaded guilty to eight theft and fraud charges in Queenstown District Court.

Kershaw, who now contracts to local family business Kershaw Aviation Group, defrauded Heliworks Helicopters Ltd when he held the position of general manager between 2005 and 2010.

During his tenure, Kershaw employed his wife Erica as office manager and his two sons, who worked in engineering and operations.

He received all the invoices from the in-house accountant and was responsible for authorising payment. He was allowed to buy personal items using company funds but was expected to pay the company back each month, itemising each purchase on a spreadsheet and providing invoices. However, Kershaw “constantly failed” to produce the spreadsheet and provide all the receipts, Crown lawyer Michael Morris says.

Between 2007 and 2010, Kershaw committed offences of theft by a person in a special relationship, using a document to gain a pecuniary advantage and obtaining by deception, Morris says. 

The court heard that Kershaw approved invoices totalling $16,000 which paid for his personal accident insurance premiums through FMR Insurance Brokerage. There was never any agreement made by the company’s board of directors that Heliworks would pay this bill.

During that time, Kershaw also got Heliworks to pay $8267 worth of life insurance premiums from the same broker. Again, the Heliworks board never agreed this would be paid for.

Through Kershaw’s manipulation of the invoice system, Heliworks unwittingly paid for squabs for his private yacht made in October 2008. Invoices were made out for “squabs for helicopters” instead.

He also racked up $3032 worth of lawn-mowing and other garden equipment for his Stewart Island property in 2009, charging it to Heliworks and put it through as company expenditure.

In August 2009, Kershaw’s wife Erica told staff at Heliworks that she was going to fly to Sydney with her best friends and daughter for a shopping trip. A few weeks later, the company in-house accountant received invoices from Kershaw for Erica’s accommodation – totalling $1300.

“The defendant was handed the invoice and has written on the bottom that it is a Heliworks expense, relating to Ngai Tahu marketing,” Morris says.

In December 2009, Erica told staff she wanted to go to Auckland with Kershaw to see Carole King and James Taylor in concert. Erica was dismissed from Heliworks soon after.

In March 2010, Kershaw asked the new office manager to book return airfares valued at $916 for himself and Erica to fly to Auckland on the same dates as the concert. Kershaw was handed an invoice but told the in-house accountant that it would be charged to marketing, as a company expense.

Heliworks also unwittingly paid for $171 worth of Corporate Cab fares during the couple’s Auckland jaunt.

In September 2010, Kershaw’s expense sheet for July 2010 showed he had used his personal credit card to buy a $10,000 helicopter filter element while overseas. There was no receipt provided and the usual price of a filter element is $5000. Kershaw instructed the in-house accountant to reimburse him for the purchase.

Kershaw told the company’s engineering manager that the filter was with Indonesian chopper company Asian Helicopters. However, a staff member of Asian Helicopters was contacted and said he had no knowledge of the filter element.

Kershaw resigned from Heliworks in October 2010.

When police spoke to him in May 2011, Kershaw admitted the filter was never bought and the dummy invoice was used to instead partly fund his personal bank account and for his wife’s overseas holiday.

Kershaw admitted to police that some personal expense items had been paid by Heliworks, but he repaid most of the money upon settlement. 

When Kershaw last appeared in July 2011, he entered a not-guilty plea and elected trial by jury.

According to the Kershaw Aviation Group website, Kershaw is a pilot with 20,000 hours’ flying experience and that he started Queenstown company Southern Lakes Helicopters in 1985. The website says he’s supported humanitarian aid projects with the United Nations, World Food Program and Oxfam, and that he “earned a NZ service medal for his involvement in the Banda Aceh tsunami”.

Judge Michael Turner remanded Kershaw on bail for sentencing on July 2. He called for pre-sentence reports to consider sentences of community and home detention, but told Kershaw this was no indication of the actual sentencing outcome.