Con man avoids jail with $20k redress

A convicted con man met a judge's ultimatum to come up with $20,000 reparation for his victim by 9am yesterday in order to avoid jail.

Mrinal Sardana (33), of Dunedin, was ordered by Judge Kevin Phillips on Wednesday to pay back the $15,000 he obtained from an Oamaru woman by falsely claiming to be a wealthy businessman and promising to invest her money.

Sardana's lawyer, John Westgate, had a solicitors' trust account cheque for $20,000 with him at the Dunedin District Court yesterday morning.

That included $5000 in emotional harm reparation for the victim, which was also part of the ultimatum.

Sardana accepted $15,000 from the victim on March 17 last year, which he said he would invest for the woman, then flew to Macau and lost the money gambling.

He was found guilty by jury in July this year on one charge of obtaining by deception.

Judge Kevin Phillips said Sardana had displayed ''the most disturbing attitude and course of behaviour''.

''She [the victim] was seen by you as a mark, and you set upon her because you learned very quickly she had savings.''

Sardana had his sentencing deferred on Wednesday after Mr Westgate informed Judge Phillips his client could come up with the money by yesterday.

Failure to do so would have resulted in a prison sentence of about 15 months, Judge Phillips said.

Sardana was sentenced to four months' community detention and 250 hours' community work.

The first-year law student at the University of Otago met the victim in Oamaru in February last year, according to evidence given by the victim during the trial.

He invited her and her husband to dinner and asked them to move into his place in Hull St as his tenants.

Sardana purported to be a very wealthy man and told the couple he had property in Oamaru and planned to bring international investors to New Zealand, she said.

When he found out she had $20,000 in savings for when she had a baby, Sardana talked of a business contract and said he could invest the money for her.

He had spoken of gambling but assured the victim the risk was all his, she said. Mr Westgate had argued during the trial the woman knew the money was for gambling and had taken a risk.

Judge Phillips said in sentencing Sardana that was false.

''She was not a woman who was going to put her life savings on the line in some form of gambling venture that you supposedly proposed,'' he told Sardana.

''She thought it was an investment - the keys to the door of economic and commercial success.''

The victim was totally ashamed and had to seek help for depression, Judge Phillips said in reference to a victim impact statement.

She had felt scared since the incident and had lost her ability to trust people. That began to return only when she was able to give evidence in court during the trial, he said.

Sardana had told a probation officer that he regularly spent $1000 a day on gambling and hardly lost.

''For you to say you rarely lose in gambling to me is remarkable ... and distant from reality,'' Judge Phillips said.

The curfew for Sardana's community detention is from 7pm to 6am daily.

Judge Phillips said the victim still lived in Oamaru and Sardana was ''well advised to keep well away from her''.


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