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SWNEY - Alex Gordon - 15/05/2017 (withheld till 23 May)

Parole Hearing
Under section 21(1) of the Parole Act 2002

Alex Gordon SWNEY

Hearing: 15 May 2017 at [Withheld] AVL from New Zealand Parole Board, Wellington

Date of decision: 22 May 2017

Members of the Board:

  • Mr N Trendle (Panel Convenor)
  • Dr P Taylor
  • Ms M More

Counsel:

  • [Withheld]


Support People:

  • [Withheld]
  • [Withheld] (Psychologist)
  • [Withheld]

DECISION OF THE BOARD

1. Alex Gordon Swney is making his first appearance before the Board on a sentence that totals five years seven months’ imprisonment following his conviction on a representative charge of dishonestly using a document to obtain valuable consideration, four charges relating to tax evasion, and one of failing to comply with a notice under the Building Act.. He became eligible for parole on 5 May 2017 and he has a statutory release date of 25 January 2021.

2. The principal charges related to the frauds he perpetrated as Chief Executive of the Heart of the City enterprise in Auckland.  Over a period that exceeded ten years he used his position to approve the payment of a large number of false invoices to secure the transfer of around $2.5 million into bank accounts over which he had control.  His failure to provide various tax returns resulted in payments of core tax of around $1.76 million not being made over a similar period.

3. This is Mr Swney’s first term of imprisonment.  He has no other convictions.  His RoC*RoI is 0.04034. He holds a minimum security classification.  Because of his low RoC*RoI, he is not eligible for any prison-based rehabilitation programmes.

4. [Withheld] appeared as counsel and made submissions in support of Mr Swney’s release on parole.  She emphasised his low RoC*RoI, his excellent conduct in prison, and that of his own initiative he had engaged with a psychologist for treatment.  Whilst his low RoC*RoI meant there was no programme he could attend in prison, Mr Swney had nevertheless engaged in 12 sessions with his psychologist.  This had given Mr Swney an insight into the issues around his offending.  [Withheld] submitted that if released he would have the strong support of his family and that he had an offer of employment.  Whilst in prison he had helped others in his role as a literacy mentor.  He had also assisted others with a yoga programme.  Since June 2015 he had been in the self-care residences and working as an education support worker.  In closing, [Withheld] emphasised the specific circumstances that led Mr Swney to his serious offending.  He had taken every step, commencing before his sentence, to gain an understanding as to how it had come about.

5. The parole assessment report recorded that upon release Mr Swney is proposing to live with [Withheld].  He had significant support within his wider family.  He had employment prospects within a family business.

6. The psychologist’s report before the Board referred to the testing undertaken with Mr Swney at the commencement of his treatment.  His responses to the psychologist indicated a person with a somewhat inflated ego and a sense of entitlement.  He initially struggled to accept the results of the tests, but the psychologist reports that over time he began to develop an understanding of what brought him to offend.  There were issues around his personality structure that whilst protective could also lead to risks.  We note that upon release, Mr Swney is committed to continue working with his psychologist.

7. In the course of the hearing, Mr Swney spent some time outlining to the Board the changes there will be to his life when he leaves prison.   He said that he no longer had any desire to live the life that he had previously.  It would be a much simpler lifestyle.  He told us he was concerned to provide for his family notwithstanding his present bankruptcy.  He accepted that he would be living a, “downgraded,” lifestyle. In his submission to the Board and in his responses to questions at the hearing, his self-analysis tended to focus on detail which was sometimes hard to follow.  He did not seem to us to be able to bring himself to acknowledge the psychological formulation that his sense of entitlement played a big part in his offending through his feeling that he was not rewarded appropriately for the services that he gave to the organisation.  When he was not offered more remuneration, he resorted to illicit means to create greater financial reward for himself.  Mr Swney seemed to us to still be coming to terms with his fundamental dishonesty.  In discussing the changes he has made to reduce his risk of reoffending, much of what he said related depended on other people or factors external to himself to provide appropriate risk management.  We acknowledge, however, the psychological comment as to his openness in treatment, and the psychologist’s opinion that he had developed insight and understanding into what brought him to offend.

8. Mr Swney’s offending was serious.  His dishonesty was sustained over more than a decade.  As the Judge noted in imposing sentence, his was a gross abuse of trust and authority. The offending was for “personal expenditure and the acquisition of valuable interests in exclusive properties held in a network of trusts.”   At the time, he justified his offending as he felt he was under-paid, despite acknowledging he was on a generous salary.

9. The Board has had regard to the work that Mr Swney has undertaken with the psychologist.  It is apparent from that work that Mr Swney has devoted a significant amount of time on self-analysis.  What was less clear to us was the nature of the changes that have occurred within himself,

10. There is no doubt from his Roc*RoI and the psychologist’s opinion that the risk of Mr Swney reoffending is low.  For us, however, the test is whether he would pose an undue risk to the community having regard to the support and supervision available to him on release.  We have taken time to reflect on all the information before us, and we have concluded that his risk can be managed in the community with the special release conditions that we have in mind.  Accordingly, he meets the statutory criteria for parole and we direct his release from prison on [Withheld].  Thereafter, Mr Swney will be subject to standard conditions and the special conditions set out below for a period of two years.  The special conditions are principally to mitigate his risk of reoffending and to facilitate his reintegration.  We are of the view that his special conditions should remain in place for an extended period to ensure that Mr Swney does not place himself in a position that couId increase his risk of reoffending.

11. His special conditions are as follows:

(1) To undertake any assessment directed by your Probation Officer and undertake and complete any counselling or programme recommended by the assessment to the satisfaction of a Probation Officer.
(2) To reside at [Withheld], or at an address approved by a Probation Officer, and not move from that address without the prior written approval of a Probation Officer.
(3) Not to give financial or business advice to any other person unless you have the prior written approval of a Probation Officer.
(4) To obtain the approval of a Probation Officer before starting or changing your position in any employment, or self-employment,
(5) Not to be involved in any way in any business, enterprise, trust, or voluntary or community organisation, other than as an employee, without the prior written approval of a Probation Officer.
(6) Not to be involved in the handling of money, or the financial affairs or financial accounts of any other person or entity, without the prior written approval of a Probation Officer.
(7) Not to have any contact with any victim of your offending, directly or indirectly, unless you have the prior written approval of a Probation Officer.

Mr N Trendle
Panel Convenor