‘I don’t want to die in prison,’ scammer pleads

“I don’t want to die, I got so sick in jail last time”, a distressed scammer pleaded as he was jailed for two years nine months.

Brendon Karl Dean Harris, 24, was one of a group scammers of the elderly during 2015-2016, and his part in the offending totalled $82,000. The total known losses from the scamming ring were $600,000.

He was not sentenced with the other members of the scamming ring because of his poor health. He needs surgery to reduce his weight.

Defence counsel Tim Fournier said Harris had received devastating news from a doctor yesterday that the surgery he needs cannot go ahead because of his serious heart condition.

Judge Jane Farish said she was sentencing Harris on seven charges of causing loss by deception, one of obtaining by deception, and one of obstructing the course of justice.

She said if Harris was able to pay reparation of $20,000 to $25,000 he could be re-sentenced but he had to go to jail today.

Harris told her that he didn’t want to die because he got very sick in jail last time he was there, and ended up in hospital.

Judge Farish said Harris was part of a group of 13 people who targeted elderly victims between September 2015 and March 2016.

They were often widows living alone, with an average age of 80, she said.

They would receive a phone call either from a “power company” or “telephone company representative” saying they were going to be cut off, and then they would be “transferred to their bank” where they would give the person on the line their bank account number. The money was then taken out of their bank by the scammers.

Sometimes the victims would be visited by a “company representative” and hand over their bank card and pin number so they could pay the debt. The bank cards would be used at various locations including Countdown, Christchurch Casino, hotels, and petrol stations.

About $300,000 was taken, but the police say it is likely there were many more victims who were not willing to make a complaint.

Harris was remanded on bail when he appeared in the Christchurch District Court in 2016, but while on bail was involved in another series of frauds in September 2016.

Many of the people involved in the first set of offending were also involved in the second set, including Harris.

This time there were at least 25 victims, and the total amount of the two frauds was in excess of $600,000.

Judge Farish said the victims of the offending were embarrassed, ashamed, and frightened. They could not believe people could be so nasty and manipulative.

Harris had a history of deceptive fraudulent behaviour, and a serious gambling problem, she said.

Harris was distressed and frightened about going to jail and was concerned they could not treat his health problems there, but Judge Farish said she was sending the letters she had received from his medical practitioners to the prison so they would know what his needs were, and if they had no means to treat him there he would need to be transferred to a hospital.