Wife of man defrauded on deathbed happy with sentence

When Chris Churcher lost his fight with cancer in 2019, he died believing he was leaving his family financially secure.

Four days later, the Serious Fraud Office raided the premises of his financial adviser, Barry Kloogh, and the Churcher family discovered their solid fiscal foundations had been built on quicksand.

"I am so grateful that he never knew," Mrs Churcher said.

Karyn Churcher said the judge did well and she was not expecting Kloogh to receive as great a...
Karyn Churcher said the judge did well and she was not expecting Kloogh to receive as great a sentence as he did. Photo: Christine O'Connor
"Chris died thinking everything was sorted, it would have been absolutely horrendous for him to have been lying there dying, he was sad enough to be leaving everybody without knowing this.

"I’m just glad he had no idea."

The Churchers were among hundreds of investors whose money was stolen by Kloogh, who today was sentenced in the Dunedin District Court to eight years and 10 months' imprisonment.

He will serve a minimum period of imprisonment of five years and four months.

Kloogh had earlier pleaded guilty to representative charges of false accounting, false statement by a promoters, theft by a person in a special relationship and obtaining by deception.

He has also pleaded guilty to four individual charges of forgery, theft by a person in a special relationship, and two charges of obtaining by deception.

The 57-year-old was the operator and sole shareholder of Financial Planning Ltd and Impact Enterprises Ltd, and offered insurance and mortgage-broking services as well as financial planning.

However, rather than investing his clients’ money through a secure platform - as they believed he would - Kloogh instead operated a Ponzi scheme, using newly invested money to pay off clients who requested their money back.

'I wasn't expecting that much' 

Speaking after sentencing, Mrs Churcher said the judge did well and she was not expecting Kloogh to receive as great a sentence as he did.

Mrs Churcher’s victim impact statement, which told how Kloogh had promised her dying husband the family’s money was safe, was regularly referred to by Judge Crosbie in his sentencing remarks.

"I wasn't expecting that much. I think that Barry will probably appeal it.

‘‘It only leaves a legacy if things change, that’s probably the only reason I’m talking to the media because this is all personal stuff, but things need to change,’’ she said.

‘‘This still continues to happen, people are still defrauding people like us - we’re not rich, we’re just everyday people who made choices with our money and we made the wrong ones.’’

Barry Kloogh listens to one of his former clients read a victim impact statement before...
Barry Kloogh listens to one of his former clients read a victim impact statement before sentencing in the Dunedin High Court. Photo: Gerard O'Brien

'He wanted to leave a legacy'

Mrs Churcher  said the couple met Kloogh in 2015 at a dinner hosted by Kloogh’s Breath Financial Services.

Kloogh advised Mr Churcher to upgrade his life assurance and add a trauma policy - timely advice it transpired, as soon after Mr Churcher was diagnosed with cancer.

"It’s probably one of the reasons why Chris was so loyal to Barry and keen to keep investing with him," Mrs Churcher said in an interview with the Otago Daily Times prior to the sentencing.

The Churchers invested not only the trauma payout, but also an inheritance, some savings and Mr Churcher’s matured life policy with Kloogh - an eventual total of $712,800 invested over several months.

Most of the money intended to sustain his wife and eight children - should Mr Churcher die - was instead stolen by Kloogh, as he shuffled money between accounts to sustain the Ponzi scheme Breathe had become.

"Chris had his insurance paid out on the Friday and four days later he (Barry) was there to get it all signed up and transferred over," Mrs Churcher said.

Of that, the majority went into the Ponzi scheme.

Mr Churcher underwent further treatment, but became increasingly unwell and eventually ceased treatment.

"Barry came up home, sat down on the couch with Chris and mapped out on paper how I would get an allowance until I was around 80," Mrs Churcher said.

"He told Chris ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take care of Karyn’, and Chris felt very happy about what he had done.

"There was never a moment when we thought the money was going to his bank account."

Soon after Mr Churcher died, Mrs Churcher went ahead with a funeral service she did not for second think she could not afford.

"Then my friend rang me and said ‘Did you get the ODT today?’ and I said ‘No, it’s still in the mailbox’ and she said ‘I have something bad to tell you’."

A couple of phone calls later, and Mrs Churcher was quickly appraised of the appalling news that the family savings were likely to be gone.

"Chris was excited about the fact he was about to become a granddad, and he wanted to leave a legacy," Mrs Churcher said.

"It wasn’t about giving the kids massive amounts of money, it was about saying ‘here is something for you from us’."

Barry Kloogh outside the Dunedin District Court last month. Photo: Linda Robertson
Barry Kloogh outside court earlier this year. Photo: Linda Robertson
The Churchers had planned that Mrs Churcher could decide whether she wanted to continue to work or not after Mr Churcher died. Now, that is a necessity, not a choice.

Mrs Churcher is one of the "lucky ones" - she got a small amount of her money back as one investment was able to be found and claimed straight away.

However, Mrs Churcher still faces an uncertain future and jokes bleakly that she will be moving in with her children when she is older.

"I don’t want to be angry with him (Kloogh) forever," Mrs Churcher said.

"I don’t know that I can forgive him for what he has done, but actually I’m not that old and I need to get on and live my life without this sitting there constantly making me feel unwell.

"I don’t want it to ruin the rest of my life: Chris didn’t get the choice to live, I actually did, and I can’t have this destroy what is left of my life." 



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