Swann conned me – Harford

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Local surveyor duped by his partner in crime.

Convicted Queenstown surveyor Kerry Harford convinced company colleagues he was duped by partner-in-crime Michael Swann.

Harford and Swann were found guilty late last Friday of a $17m fraud against Otago District Health Board, where Swann was information technology manager.

“I think [Harford] believed he’d been duped by a master conman so we gave him the benefit of the doubt,” says the managing partner of Harford’s former surveying firm this week.

“Our association with Kerry [since 2001] led us to believe he was an honest person.”

Suppression orders ban identification of the firm – and by extension, its managing partner.

When charges were laid about 18 months ago, Harford, 47, met his fellow partners.

If he’d done anything wrong, he told them, it was because he’d been duped by Swann. “That was certainly the impression I had,” says his former boss.

Harford immediately resigned as partner-shareholder but remained an employee on $80,000-$100,000-a-year until his long trial began last month.

The firm’s no longer paying Harford “because he’s not turning up to work so I guess the [employment] contract is over”.

“Up until now he was only accused of something and, as we would with any employee, we were seeking to support him.”

The charges created “disbelief” within the firm – Harford was a “good surveyor”, a hard worker and no one had any suspicions.

According to the Serious Fraud Office, Harford skimmed off 10 per cent of the $17m Swann misappropriated from ODHB over several years.

But his former boss doesn’t know how Harford spent his ill-gotten gains, which reportedly included more than $300,000 on cars and boats.

“I’ve no idea. I was never involved with Kerry socially – he was an employee and that was about it.”

It’s believed Harford’s wife and two children remain in their Frankton home, but the survey­ing chief has never visited and can’t comment on the house.

A three- or four-year-old Toyota Land Cruiser – worth about $60,000 – was Harford’s everyday vehicle.

The unmasking of their former colleague came as a shock to the small staff in the Queenstown branch of the surveying company, says the boss.

Unless any appeal is mounted, Harford faces being struck off by the New Zealand Institute of Surveyors.

“His work here had no relationship to Swann – it was an entirely separate compartment of Harford’s life,” says the managing partner.