Fraudster’s jail reunion

Pre-Christmas visit by partner for mega-crook Harford.

Queenstown’s Kerry Gray Harford, jailed this month for New Zealand’s biggest fraud, had his first prison visit from his partner on Monday.

The attractive 40-ish woman drove from the family’s $800,000 Frankton home to see her 48-year-old partner in the new “Milton Hilton” prison near Dunedin.

It’s the first time she’s seen her man since his trial began on November 17.

The woman didn’t attend the three-week trial and hasn’t been allowed to visit him in jail until now.

She and Harford have been together more than 20 years but she goes under a different surname.

No charges were brought against her and she and her children live anonymously, shielded from public scrutiny by court suppression orders.

Many details known to Mountain Scene about her life with Harford cannot be published because they may identify the woman – for example, a photo of the quite lavish family home – but some aspects of Harford’s spending power are revealed in this coverage.

Her identity may be officially masked but Harford’s partner invited Mountain Scene into the family home for a coffee last week – and her first interview.

Although nervous and tearful, she spoke quite freely for about 10 minutes.

How did she react when the jury pronounced Harford guilty?

“I was fairly shocked – I saw it on the TV news.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like that – a couple of friends came round straight away.”

How are you off financially? “I’m not going to go into that.”

She didn’t attend the trial: “I didn’t go to court as it was best for me to stay [here] for the kids.”

When first interviewed, she hadn’t seen Harford in prison.

“We’ve not been able to, we’ve just got to wait for permission,” she told Mountain Scene.

“[Harford] is on the phone whenever he can ring – not daily.”

Contacted again last weekend by Mountain Scene, she’d since received permission to visit Mil­­­­ton Prison on Monday this week.

Does she stand by Harford? “Absolutely – he’s not that sort of person [to commit fraud].”

Any prior suspicions? “No.”

She has no immediate family here but is adamant she’ll stay in the Wakatipu – she and her surveyor partner have been here seven years.

“We’ve had lots of support. Lots of visits [from friends].

“[Harford’s] a very caring, honest person. Everyone who knows Kerry knows what he’s like and they’ve
all been extremely supportive.”

She “obviously” hopes Harford will escape a jail term when sentenced on March 11.

Harford was convicted along with Michael Andrew Swann for defrauding Otago District Health Board of $16.9 million over six years via 198 false invoices for computer work.

At the trial, former ODHB information-technology boss Swann was painted as the mastermind by the Serious Fraud Office, raking off 90 per cent of the ill-gotten public money.

Harford was portrayed as the “cut-out man” whose company invoiced ODHB for the money, keeping 10 per cent and passing the rest on to a Swann company.

The boss of his former surveying company – which also can’t be named – told Mountain Scene earlier this month that Harford had spoken of being duped by Swann.

Where did the dough go, Kerry? 

Prosecution evidence in New Zealand’s biggest fraud trial pinpointed how Queenstown surveyor Kerry Gray Harford spent most of his 10 per cent of the ill-gotten $17 million:

  • Vehicles and boats: $324,000
  • Inland Revenue payments: $388,000
  • Transferred to personal bank accounts: $550,000
  • Personal and household spending: $352,000

The Harford assets

An $800,000 well-furnished family home, two other local properties totalling about $1.5 million, the obligatory seven-seater 4WD and a late-model saloon for the missus.

The asset list isn’t extravagant for the Wakatipu these days, especially without knowing the extent of mortgages and hire purchase.

But you’d say surveyor Kerry Harford was on the success path – given his salary of $80,000-$100,000 a year, as estimated by his former boss earlier this month.

We can’t name the boss because of a suppression order protecting the surveying firm – and there are personal and property details we also can’t fully reveal because of another suppression order protecting the identity of Harford’s female partner, who goes under a different surname yet continues living anonymously in the family home.

Here’s what we can tell you:

  • Family home: While not a mansion, the Harford home is certainly one of Frankton’s nicer examples.
    Built in the 1990s and bought by Harford interests for $375,000 in May 2001 – not long after the $17 million rip-off of public funds began at Otago District Health Board – the home is thought to have been done up and appears quite impeccably furnished.
    Its valuation is $800,000, a capital gain of $425,000 less renovation costs.
  • Million-dollar baby: In August 2006, just a month or so before investi­gators started sniffing around at ODHB,
    a Harford company signed up to pay $1.05m for a property in Bay View Road, one of the streets in Kelvin Heights.

The house isn’t much – an old crib, in fact – but what a honey of a section, more than 1200sq m.

The site looks for all the world like it’s just waiting for the crib to be bowled and a dream home put up in its place. But that wasn’t to be: as the noose tightened and the Serious Fraud Office became involved, the Harford company sold the property in May 2007 – who knows, perhaps to prepare for heavy legal fees – and got $975,000, its current valuation, at a loss of $75,000.

  • Place next door: Unless it was a straight investment – and it wasn’t a bad one if it was – this final Harford property purchase is a bit of an oddity. We can’t publish a photo because it’s the place next door to the family home but a Harford company bought it – together with another party we can’t name – for $355,000 in November 2002. 

At about the same time as Bay View Rd, this too was sold in April 2007 – at $508,000, a gain of $153,000.
These assets – perhaps together with others we can’t reveal – may play a part at Harford’s sentencing on March 11.