Former TV presenter guilty of 'dying child' lie on Trade Me

Author
Kurt Bayer, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 19 Aug 2020, 1:52PM
Simone Wright claimed that her ex-husband Paul Bennett was behind a series of Trade Me frauds during her trial at Christchurch District Court.
Simone Wright claimed that her ex-husband Paul Bennett was behind a series of Trade Me frauds during her trial at Christchurch District Court.

Former TV presenter guilty of 'dying child' lie on Trade Me

Author
Kurt Bayer, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 19 Aug 2020, 1:52PM

A former Australian TV presenter has today been found guilty of inventing a "cruel lie" around a dying child to con Trade Me buyers out of $35,000.

Simone Anne Wright, who also used the last names Williams and Smith, denied making up stories of a terminally ill son being cared for at Auckland's Starship Hospital to sell motorbikes, a spa bath and other items worth thousands of dollars on Trade Me.

The court heard how adverts surfaced on Trade Me back in 2008 for a Kawasaki motorbike which said, "Our son has cancer and can no longer ride his pride and joy".

The Crown alleged the sick child was fictitious and made up to "engender trust and sympathy".

Wright said she had nothing to do with the fake trades – and blamed former husband Paul James Bennett who last month was jailed for more than three years after admitting a series of frauds worth $580,000.

She claimed he controlled everything.

But after a judge-alone trial at Christchurch District Court this week, she has been found guilty on all seven charges of obtaining by deception.

In finding her guilty, Judge Paul Kellar said it "strains credibility to breaking point" that Wright did not know what was going on.

She has been remanded in custody for sentencing on Friday.

In her evidence on Monday, Wright told how her ex-husband – who she married in Sydney in 2002 - used to tell "spectacular" stories, once claiming he'd once been kidnapped at gunpoint in Hollywood star Russell Crowe's helicopter by an Australian criminal organisation.

One "big story" was how he had lived in South Africa and worked for CIA as a helicopter pilot and that he'd been "a witness to all sorts of things".

"He even bought a nuclear weapon into the story," she said, along with former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher's son Sir Mark.

When they met, Bennett allegedly told her to sell her house and car, and that she didn't need to work anymore.

"Eventually everything was gone. Right down to a small suitcase of clothes," she said.

"I lost everything… He lied to me our whole relationship. He's an expert liar."

They snuck in New Zealand in 2005, sailing across the Tasman Sea from Australia on a yacht and avoiding immigration officials.

Wright claimed they did so because Bennett "feared for his life" and was running from the organised crime syndicate.

The court heard that in May 2008 they were living in Napier when Wright set up two Trade Me accounts and two bank accounts.

On May 27, 2008, a used plug-in spa was listed for sale with its listing saying it was needed to "help pay family medical bills".

A Dunedin woman won the auction and paid $4065 for the spa.

In an exchange of emails around getting the spa delivered, the seller said they were at Starship Hospital with a son on life support. The buyer offered her best wishes but the spa was never received – and she never heard from the seller again.

Another exchange involved a silage wagon and Suzuki quad bike sold for $16,500. When the items didn't arrive, the buyer phoned and spoke with a male who said they were at Starship with a nephew who had brain cancer.

A Kawasaki motorbike was sold three times, with stories around a sick son.

One witnesses told how after buying the bike for $2650 he had a phone conversation with a woman called "Susan" and sympathised with her tale of a sick son with a brain tumour.

"As a father with a son the same age you get sucked along. It was a good game," the witness said.

They soon had concerns of a con and when they tried phoning back, got no answer.

They never got their money back.

Asked by defence counsel Elizabeth Bulger if the "woman" the witness spoke to on the phone could've been a man putting on a woman's voice, he laughed.

"Not a chance," he said, adding that the woman had a slight accent and might've been English.

Judge Kellar ruled that to be a key piece of evidence, finding the witness to be credible, and concluding it would've been "simply implausible" for Bennett to have put on a woman's voice.

Both Wright and Bennett were arrested as the pair sailed into Sydney Harbour after crossing the Tasman Sea from Northland on a crippled yacht in February 2015.

Wright was extradited from Australia to New Zealand in November 2018.