From $60m tycoon to odd-job man

A few years ago he was the $60 million man with a property empire that included more than 20 pubs, hotels and a fun park. Now Michael McGurk is doing odd jobs to get by, and has a criminal conviction for stealing pokie money.

The 54-year-old Aucklander has been found guilty by a jury of stealing $35,000 of pokie money from his central Auckland hotel, the Albion.

McGurk told the Herald on Sunday that the conviction was "an absolute joke" and he would appeal. He was convicted last month and will be sentenced on March 19.

The Department of Internal Affairs brought the charge and said the money was meant for the Pacific Sports and Community Trust, subsequently known as the Nautilus Foundation.

Gambling compliance director Debbie Despard said McGurk used the pokie money for hotel trading expenses.

"We monitor all gaming machines in pubs and clubs to ensure that takings are properly accounted for and we are pleased that we have been able to hold this person accountable under the law."

The Albion was placed in receivership in 2009.

McGurk told the Herald on Sunday that the money had been available for the trust but the receivers, McDonald Vague, had trespassed him from the premises before he was able to pay up.

"I ranted and raved and said 'that money has to be paid into the pokies' and they trespassed me from the premises - they said 'it's nothing to do with you any more, you're out of here'." He had no control over the company's accounts from that point, and there was nothing he could do.

"It's just absolute nonsense," he said. "How in God's name I was charged in the first place has got me stumped."

A McDonald Vague spokesman said the company had no need to make any comment as McGurk had been found guilty

McGurk is best known as the founder of the Spa and Pool Factory, and his personal wealth was once estimated at $60m in the NBR Rich List.

He said he lost more than $7m in a business deal over a Christchurch hotel, which prompted him to take legal action.

"We went to court but, instead of getting our money back, we ended up with a $400,000-odd legal bill," he said.

"At the same time the markets got tight and it all folded."

In 2009, McGurk was taken to court over $9m owed to failed finance company Hanover, which collapsed the previous year leaving 16,000 investors out of pocket by more than $500m. The matter was eventually settled out of court.

His company, Oasis Properties, went into liquidation in 2009 and he has since been declared bankrupt.

McGurk let out a wry laugh when asked how he was doing now.

"It hasn't been easy, I tell you. I'm bankrupt. I've got nothing.

"At the moment I'm helping out a couple of mates doing bits and pieces so I can get something to eat."

 

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