Mother pleads guilty after trail of deception

A Dunedin mother scammed TradeMe users then went on to dupe police and a magistrate, a court has heard.

But Samantha Jay Hunter-McEwan’s lies finally caught up with her.

The 26-year-old was sentenced at the Dunedin District Court this week to five months’ home detention after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice.

The saga stretches back to November 2022.

Hunter-McEwan advertised goods for sale on the online marketplace and failed to deliver the items after $1085 was transferred to her account by her two victims — a common form of fraud.

Police were easily able to track down the defendant through her bank details and in February last year she appeared in court charged with two counts of obtaining by deception.

With no previous dishonesty convictions to her name, police offered her diversion, giving her a chance to avoid a serious blemish on her criminal record. All Hunter-McEwan had to do was repay the cash she had scammed from the TradeMe users. Instead, she doubled down on her duplicity.

A couple of days before her scheduled court hearing, the defendant transferred $400 to a friend, followed by $410 the following day.

At Hunter-McEwan’s instructions, the friend returned the money.

On August 11, the defendant gave screenshots of the bank transactions to her lawyer, claiming it was evidence of her refunding her victims.

The images were shown to a prosecuting sergeant who accepted it at face value.

In court, a community magistrate was told Hunter-McEwan had completed her diversion and the fraud charges were duly dismissed.

It was only later when the victims complained to police that they were still out of pocket that the deceit unravelled.

Hunter-McEwan told officers she thought she would have paid off those she ripped off before they discovered her lies.

This week, six months later, the defendant was back in the same court on a charge carrying a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment.

Judge Jim Large said Hunter-McEwan’s actions might have been "naive" but they were serious.

"[It] goes to the very core of the justice system," he said. "People have to be able to rely on information given to their lawyer and police."

The court heard Hunter-McEwan had now reimbursed the victims and was studying online for a diploma in business administration.

Because the fraud charges were formally dismissed, they cannot be relaid.


Litany of lies

Nov 2022: Samantha Hunter-McEwan rips off two TradeMe users for $1085
Feb 2023: Appears in court on two charges of obtaining by deception
Mar 2023: Police offer diversion on condition she repay victims
Aug 2023: Hunter-McEwan shows police a screenshot, claims to have returned the cash, charges dismissed
Nov 2023: Charged with perverting the course of justice
Apr 2024: Sentenced to five months’ home detention