Lover of Ports of Auckland fraudster Paul Bainbridge denied parole after stealing ratepayers’ money

The lover of a former senior Ports of Auckland manager who together stole more than $368,000 from the Auckland Council-owned company has been denied parole but faces deportation upon her eventual release.

Litia Vuniduvu appeared before the Parole Board this month while serving a three-year prison sentence after she was found guilty by a jury in 2019 of 50 charges of dishonestly using a document.

She was in a relationship with Paul Bainbridge, who worked at the ports as the manager of its ICT services. The couple were prosecuted for an elaborate and lengthy fake invoice scheme over three years, which began in 2013.

They took substantial steps to conceal their offending as a total of $368,842.50 was deposited in an account in Vuniduvu’s name after dozens of bogus invoices under the guise of an alias were approved by Bainbridge.

Ports of Auckland’s senior staff were “shocked” at the scale of the fraud after it was discovered through an audit, a victim impact statement read.

Bainbridge was considered an “experienced, trustworthy and professional worker” and in one of the company’s most senior positions outside the executive team. He was sentenced to three years and one month in prison in December 2017 and granted parole in 2019 with several conditions, including not to contact Vuniduvu, whom he had met on an internet dating website.

Hundreds of thousands of ratepayer dollars were also spent on the investigation into the duo and the port’s legal fees throughout the lengthy court proceedings. The Ports of Auckland also engaged Bainbridge in a civil claim to recover the stolen money and used external experts to train its staff to identify and review suspicious transactions.

Vuniduvu was first seen by the Parole Board in March when it was noted she was facing further charges, which have now been resolved, and is currently appealing her sentence, her lawyer said.

The now 41-year-old, who was a project manager, was also in discussions with Immigration New Zealand about an appeal against her deportation status.

“The [Parole] Board hoped that once these hurdles were sorted she could undertake the Kowhiritanga Programme [a group-based programme for female offenders] which is on her sentence plan and which it said she was motivated to do,” this month’s decision reads.

“Unfortunately, those matters have not been sorted and she has not been able to undertake the Kowhiritanga Programme. This means that she has not received any treatment for the very serious offending that has brought her to prison.”

The Parole Board was also unclear about the suitability of an address proposed for Vuniduvu’s release.

“All this means that Ms Vuniduvu is in a precarious situation regarding any release on parole, as she has no right to reside in New Zealand and, therefore, no right to work or to income support.

“We were advised that her family would financially provide for her. However, when asked about the level of financial support, Ms Vuniduvu spoke about only needing to have around $50 a week or indeed a fortnight, which to the board appeared somewhat unrealistic.”

The Parole Board said while Vuniduvu might not be eligible because she is exercising her right to appeal both conviction and sentence, it did not alter the fact that no treatment had been undertaken and no safety plan was presented for consideration.

“Her statutory right to appeal does not extend to being released on parole without any reduction in risk because rehabilitation has not been available to her as a consequence of the exercise of that right. Further, in our view, release to a situation of financial instability will increase rather than decrease her risk of reoffending. For all those reasons, parole today is declined,” its decision reads.

Vuniduvu, who arrived in New Zealand from Fiji in 2007, had been served with a deportation order in 2018. The Parole Board’s decision said she is now out of time to file an appeal and would now require leave to do so.

Her lawyer Tim Blackwell said Vuniduvu was handling the immigration matter herself.

“As far as the board is aware, no concrete steps to file an application for leave to appeal out of time have been made … Ms Vuniduvu’s approach at the hearing today appeared predicated on an understanding she was not able to be deported,” the decision reads.

“As far as the board is aware, that is not the case. Without an appeal against deportation on foot, it is difficult to understand on what basis the board could or should have ignored the deportation order she is subject to.”

It was also noted Vuniduvu is not in the same situation as others during the Covid-19 pandemic who are unable to be paroled for deportation even though they no longer pose an undue risk to the safety of the community.

Vuniduvu will be seen by the board again in February. Her statutory release date is March 21, 2022.

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