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'Sophisticated and intelligent criminal' gets law degree while on electronic bail

Belinda Feek,
Publish Date
Wed, 5 Jun 2024, 7:11am
Mason Helm, 25, of Hamilton, put GPS trackers on vehicles, mostly Ford Rangers and Ford Couriers, copied their keys and was then able to simply drive them away. Photo / LinkedIn
Mason Helm, 25, of Hamilton, put GPS trackers on vehicles, mostly Ford Rangers and Ford Couriers, copied their keys and was then able to simply drive them away. Photo / LinkedIn

'Sophisticated and intelligent criminal' gets law degree while on electronic bail

Belinda Feek,
Publish Date
Wed, 5 Jun 2024, 7:11am

A young “sophisticated and intelligent criminal” put GPS trackers on vehicles, mostly Ford Rangers, then copied their keys so he could climb in and drive away in them.  

But Mason Helm has since put his intelligence to better use and gone on to get a law degree at the University of Waikato during the three-and-a-half years he’s been on electronically-monitored bail.  

His family, friends and university colleagues were in the Hamilton District Court to support him during his recent sentencing in the hope he didn’t get sent to jail. 

“What we have here is a case where over three and a half years, Mr Helm has demonstrated to the court and the community his enduring commitment to paying his debt to the community and ensuring that he grows into a man that will never come to the court again in these circumstances,” his lawyer, Sacha Norrie, said in pleading her case as to why Helm should receive distinct discount for his rehabilitative efforts, including getting his degree. 

The 25-year-old stole seven vehicles, and was also charged with receiving property that had been stolen from various commercial Hamilton businesses, between 2019 and 2021. All up, his offending totalled around $250,000 and when he was eventually arrested he was also found with nearly 200g of cannabis. 

In a slight criminal segue, he also organised for two pill presses to be imported from China to emulate the then-popular ‘Pink Porsche’ MDMA drug. 

Police also found evidence of his being in possession of 350 MDMA pills in 2019. 

Judge Philip Crayton described his offending as “sophisticated, pre-meditated, targeted, and versatile” and said he was “ensconced in a criminal life” at the time. 

“While you were a young offender, you were not a naïve, young man. You were a sophisticated, intelligent criminal. 

“That is the opinion of experts and it’s the opinion of yourself when you have been spoken to.” 

Despite that, Helm managed to avoid jail and was last month given six months’ home detention and ordered to pay $10,000 reparation, split among eight of his victims, when he appeared for sentencing on representative charges of receiving property, unlawfully taking motor vehicles, possession of MDMA for supply, possession of cannabis, and participating in an organised criminal group. 

Helm admitted stealing an R2R off-road vehicle from Action Equipment worth $25,000 in March 2019, and when his property was searched he was found in possession of a triple axle trailer that had 14 months earlier been stolen from Ag Attachments. 

Police also found a $30,000 generator, the property of Hamilton City Council, that was stolen from the Ruakiwi water reservoir - a vital part of the city’s emergency measures so the city and Waikato Hospital were not left without water. 

A Ford Ranger was also found with components fitted in it from a vehicle stolen from Rototuna. 

‘Tag, Track, Steal’ 

Helm admitted the theft of seven vehicles; six from Hamilton, one from Cambridge. 

His vehicles of choice were Ford Rangers, Ford Couriers and one Mazda. 

Prior to stealing them, Helm had sourced various materials specific to Ford vehicles. They included a turbo decoder - which could be used to code a new key to the vehicle - blackboard keys, transponders specific to Ford Rangers manufactured between 2011 and 2015, and GPS tracking devices to put on vehicles of interest to him. 

Between March 3 and November 11, 2019, Helm set out to find the items, first up was a $13,000 Ford Courier parked, and locked, in a Cambridge driveway. 

Mason Helm pictured in 2023 winning a Waikato University Law Students' Association paper. Photo / LinkedInMason Helm pictured in 2023 winning a Waikato University Law Students' Association paper. Photo / LinkedIn 

Using his various devices, Helm was able to simply get in and drive away. The vehicle was found a week later in the Pirongia Forest Park on May 31. 

On August 16, 2019, he stole a $40,000 2013 Ford Ranger that was parked on the roadside in Pukekohe. It was found three days later in Whatawhata. A search of Helm’s cellphone on arrest found a note that read, “find black Ranger” with its identification and general area. 

He went on to steal a $30,000 Ford Ranger in August, and a $10,000 Ford Courier two days later. 

The next day he put a post up on Facebook asking if anyone was wrecking a white courier and another selling the vehicle’s tray. 

It was never recovered. 

On October 15, 2019, he stole a $10,000 2006 Mazda that was parked and locked on a Hamilton driveway that had a specific brand of alloy wheels fitted. 

Images of those wheels, which were removed from the vehicle, were later found on his cellphone. The vehicle itself was never recovered. 

On November 10, 2019, a 2014 Ford Ranger was stolen from a Hamilton driveway, and the next day a $29,000 Ford Ranger was stolen. 

He left it in the Pirongia Forest Park. 

But while police were at the scene, Helm returned in another Ford Ranger. 

It was inspected and showed another key had been programmed to access it. He also had a note on his phone tracking it down. 

On May 12, 2020, a property of Helm’s associate was searched, where Helm had access to a shed. 

Police found five uncut Ford keys, two Mitsubishi keys, and two GPS trackers. 

‘Pink Porsche Pills’ 

In July 2019, Helm imported a rotary tablet press from China. 

He picked it up the following month, restored and repaired a factory fault before selling it, advertising it as capable of reproducing the same shaped pills as the “popular Pink Porsche-shaped pills”. 

He sold it In February 2020 for $30,000 and returned to the buyer several times to fix various faults and teach him how to use it. 

Judge Crayton said that by selling the press, Helm was reckless that it could be used for the production of illegal drugs. 

However, it was acknowledged that he wasn’t involved in the production of the pills, or sale or supply of them directly, but on June 26 he helped the same man import another pill press from China. 

Helm’s home was eventually searched in July 2021 and his phone seized. 

It was then they discovered he’d been in the possession of 350 heart-shaped yellow tablets that had contained ecstasy in June 2019. 

Police also found 198g of cannabis at his house. 

The pill presses were never found. 

‘Demonstrable rehabilitative efforts’ 

Helms’ counsel Sacha Norrie said her client should receive distinct discount for his rehabilitative efforts. 

“The efforts and evidence that’s before you in terms of that demonstrable rehabilitation is extraordinary. 

“It would be a happy day that this court would see that in more cases.” 

She pushed for a non-custodial sentence so that his convictions could be subject to the Clean Slate Act and allow him to pursue a career in law. 

Helm had participated in the court proceedings “in a public forum for the last 3 1/2 years” while his university peers, professors, lecturers, and employers all knew the criminal charges he had faced. 

“For a young man of his young age and stage that has provided significant denunciation,” she said. 

Norrie urged the judge not to “underestimate the value of that” deterrence, including his time in custody when he was attacked, which resulted in ongoing psychological trauma “that he is still working through”. 

Helm was determined to turn his life around and not end up back in prison, she said, adding that his remorse was genuine, could pay some reparation, and urged Judge Crayton to instead issue a sentence of community detention. 

“The short point is, you have a young man who has turned the ship around in ways that are rarely seen,” she said. 

Helm’s parents, friends, and colleagues from university were all in court for his sentencing. 

‘Off the rails’ 

But Judge Crayton was dubious about how Helm could use his intelligence and said he still had the potential to go back to his old ways. 

As for the pill press, the judge said he had “no doubt” that Helm had a “clear understanding” that there were “very few legitimate purposes for such a machine in the community”. 

Despite the lengthy delay in pleading guilty, Judge Crayton issued 20 per cent discount, and noted there had been no issues while on e-bail. 

As for his section 27 cultural report, the judge accepted that he grew up “accepting of crime as an adjunct to normal life, that it was the way that you understood, from your father, to have money, to gain money”, and that from a young age Helm went “off the rails”. 

Judge Crayton also accepted that Helm was someone who not only focused on something, but it was a “very intense focus”, and usually on one goal at a time. 

Judge Crayton found a prison sentence would be unduly harsh on Helm but urged him to make better choices once his sentence was finished and said any opportunity to practise law “will be earned”. 

Judge Crayton divided the reparation amongst eight of his victims, which was mostly to pay for insurance excess. 

Belinda Feek is an Open Justice reporter based in Waikato. She has worked at NZME for nine years and has been a journalist for 20. 

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