A former brothel house in England Street, Phillipstown, is on the market while the owner struggles with “technical insolvency” and a $10,000 fine for breaching Christchurch City Council bylaws.
Fan Jiang, 49, widowed when her husband died after the prosecution began, will have help to pay the fine and Judge Craig Thompson said the fine would be “a reasonable proposition” when the property was sold.
The house is no longer operating as a brothel.
Through defence lawyer Christopher Persson, Jiang today offered her apology to a woman neighbour “for any disturbance to the environment” when the brothel was running.
Persson had suggested a fine of $2000, while the prosecutor for the city council, Kelvin Reid, suggested a starting point of up to $40,000.
Judge Thompson decided to start his fine calculations in the wide middle ground after finding Jiang guilty of breaching rules about operating the business after 11pm in a residential area, and also finding she had breached a council abatement notice.
After seeing Mr Persson’s written submissions that Jiang was now “technically bankrupt”, Judge Thompson considered whether community work should be imposed as an alternative to a fine.
Mr Reid commented: “I completely accept that ability to pay is a matter Your Honour must take into account.”
Jiang was “technically insolvent at the moment”, Mr Persson said. “Agents are at work with regard to one of the properties and she could pay off a modest fine.”
Judge Thompson confirmed that the sale related to the England Street property which was the subject of the council prosecution in which Jiang denied five charges. She was convicted in December on two charges, but was acquitted on the other three.
Mr Persson described it as “relatively modest offending”. There had been no damage to the urban environment other than by people arriving and leaving the property outside the permitted hours. The trial heard of only five proven instances of people going to the house after 11pm – the time limit set in the council’s bylaws for businesses in residential areas. The council prosecution began in 2013.
“There was no evidence that she was there at the time or knew that the rule about the hours of operation were being breached,” he said.
“The business has now ceased completely. There was modest operation of the business – not by Jiang but by another lady – in 2014 and 2015, and there have been no further complaints,” he said. There had been compliance with the council’s abatement notice since November 2013.
“She is getting budgeting advice and assistance with her finances to put them on track,” he said.
Judge Thompson said the brothel operation had caused disruption late at night to the reasonable amenity of a residential neighbourhood. “That is exactly what the rules in the District Plan were designed to prevent.”
It was clear the offences were deliberate. The business had been operated over an extended period, and it had made a profit though he was unable to say how much. Considerable sums of cash had been found in a drop box on the premises, by council inspectors.
“It is clear that Miss Jiang had the ability to stop the breaches had she been minded to do so.” She could have taken more close personal supervision to stop the breaches.
“She has expressed regret to her immediate neighbour about the disruption to her,” said the judge. In his view the apology “comes a little late, and rather remotely”.
“I have seen her attitude to these offences over a considerable period. It has been a confused denial that it was her doing or her problem. It continued in the face of a very clear warning in terms of the abatement notice.”
Jiang had acknowledged that she had run similar businesses before.
In reply to a submission by Mr Persson, the judge said the brothel operation with cars and people arriving and departing late at night was “more than ordinary usage” for a residential neighbourhood. For good reason, the council had rules applying to businesses in such residential areas.
He fined Jiang $10,000 with an order – normal in such cases – that 90 percent of the fine be paid to the council. Jiang will also have to pay solicitor’s fees.