Ex-SAS soldier admits fraud

A former SAS soldier has been kicked out of the Defence Force today and jailed for four months after conning Army bosses into paying for a weekend away with his partner.

Corporal Theodore Laveta Marama, 53, pleaded guilty this morning to 11 charges at a court martial hearing at Burnham Military Camp.

The regular force soldier, who served with the SAS in the 1980s, was a respected physical trainer at the Youth Development Unit (South) at Burnham.

But he suffered a major fall from grace when he fabricated a New Zealand Outdoor Instructors Association symposium in Wellington and reclaimed $935 for the Army-paid trip where he spent a weekend with his partner.

The father-of-two then lied in emails, forms and officials documents to cover up his fraud which included flights, accommodation and meals.

The court martial also heard he falsified fitness tests for him and four comrades.

And without authorisation from his superiors, he brought in an external mental health agency with links to his partner to do work at the Life Change programme at his unit.

When he was suspended from duty in March last year as an inquiry into his activities was carried out, Corporal Marama breached orders by travelling to Australia where he was out of contact for a week.

At the court martial today, he pleaded guilty to falsifying official documents and statements, failing to comply with written orders, disobeying a lawful command and acting in a manner likely to prejudice service discipline contrary to the Armed Forces Discipline Act 1971.

Defence counsel Elizabeth Bulger accepted his dismissal "from Her Majesty's service'' was inevitable.

Reparation of $1704, of which $935 was to fund his November 2012 Wellington trip and $769 to the unauthorised external agency, has been fully repaid.

Army prosecutor Captain Matt McGrath read a victim impact statement from the commanding officer of the Youth Development Unit (South).

Given the nature of the unit's work with at-risk young people, building trust and providing positive role models is paramount, the court martial heard.

Corporal Marama's actions meant that he could never work there again, the commanding officer said.

His frauds affected the unit's efficiency and the effectiveness, caused friction, and had a negative effect on staff morale and confidence.

Engaging the outside agency to do work at the unit, potentially put the youngsters "at a greater risk", Captain McGrath said. 

After two hours of deliberations today, a panel of three military members, along with Judge Duncan Harvey, decided on Corporal Marama's sentence.

The judge said his crimes did "enormous harm'' and were "an appalling breach of trust''.

"Over the years you have served the New Zealand military extremely well,'' the judge said, adding: "Your fall from grace has been quite dramatic.''

Corporal Marama signed up for the first of two distinguished Army stints as a rifleman in 1980.

After a posting to Singapore, he soon completed a gruelling SAS selection course before becoming a fully engaged member.

But in 1987, he opted out, and spent the rest of his career with the New Zealand Army Physical Training Corps (NZAPTC), rising through the ranks to become Warrant Officer class 2.

He ran officer cadet school programmes, staff development courses, and was safety advisor on the popular 'Clash of the Codes' TV show for three years.

After retiring from the Army in 2001, he became a physical trainer at the Royal New Zealand Police College at Porirua.

He assisted new migrants with English language courses, and ran fitness sessions and community activities after school for at-risk youths.

Ms Bulger described him as a "shy and retiring'' person, but one who has "clearly committed himself to his work and the communities he's lived in''.

"[But] he understands he has almost completely eroded the good work he's done in the Army and in various communities around the country.''

He also has history of fraud.

In 2008, he was convicted at District Court on charges of theft by a person in a special relationship and for dishonestly using a document for pecuniary advantage and sentenced to 200 hours of community work and community detention.

He rejoined the Army in 2010.