June 15, 2007

Fantasy world crashes down

A man’s Walter Mitty fantasy existence caught up with him in the Christchurch District Court today, with a two-year three-month jail term.

Svend Olav Dunick Larsen even ripped off his own 68-year-old uncle which led to the pensioner losing his house and having to declare himself bankrupt.

“He is a gutless person, and I will never get over this,” the uncle said in a letter to the court at Larsen’s sentencing today. “I hope Svend knows he has made my life hell.”

Larsen, 24, had admitted nine charges, including dishonestly using documents, obtaining by deception, and theft.

Most of the offending took place in Southland last year, where Larsen’s business venture at a disused Bluff hotel failed and put him heavily in debt.

He stopped trading and persuaded his uncle to let him use his bank account.

Larsen then wrote a series of valueless $127,900 cheques on a closed business account and paid them into the uncle’s account. He then checked the account regularly by phone, and when a bank error meant one of the cheques was accepted, he got the uncle to help him withdraw $25,000 in cash and a bank cheque for $70,000.

He also wrote two valueless cheques for a firm of solicitors in Queenstown.

As the investigation closed in on him, Larsen was due to appear in the Invercargill District Court.

Instead, that day, he took a taxi to Dunedin airport intending to leave the country, and paid the taxi driver with another valueless cheque for $550.

After the Norwegian-born man was caught, he was also charged with stealing money three years ago from the Canterbury Historic House and Conservation Trust where he was a volunteer. He had the responsibility for the proceeds from a fundraising auction, and kept $494 in cash.

Defence counsel Peter Dyhrberg told the court: “He comes across as being very sincere. He mixes in circles where he is very polite and civil. The reality of his financial circumstances and the way he portrays himself, or sees himself in social terms, has been his undoing.”

Judge Colin Doherty referred to Larsen’s Walter Mitty-style existence. He said: “You appeared to be living in a fantasy world that you are some sort of entrepreneur, deceiving even those who were close to you and were vulnerable.”

He noted that the uncle felt extremely hurt by the way in which Larsen conned him, when he had trusted the younger man. Larsen had mortgaged his uncle’s house and used it to finance the failed business venture. The house had now been lost in a mortgagee sale and the uncle was living in a council flat.

“He ought to be living in his twilight years in some comfort,” said the judge. “Your offending was particularly nasty because of the effect it has had on your relative.”

He jailed Larsen for two years three months, and ordered him to pay reparations totalling almost $12,000 to the bank and the other three victims. He said there had been a suggestion that some money might be available, but it had not been able to be verified.