Canterbury trainer sentenced after selling fictitious horse for $40,000

Mitchell Paul Kerr. Photo: Supplied
Mitchell Paul Kerr. Photo: Supplied
A year after being banned for life from harness racing for duping owners, Mitchell Paul Kerr has been put on home detention for fraud and forgery, which included selling a fictitious horse for $40,000.

The 30-year-old Canterbury harness racing trainer will serve seven months of home detention, attend courses and treatment as directed for his gambling addiction, and pay back about 10 per cent of the money he ripped off.

He apologised after the sentencing in the Christchurch District Court, saying that he wanted to "express how sorry I am" and he would repay what he could to the victims.

Kerr had pleaded guilty to two charges of obtaining money by deception and a charge of forging a horse owner's signature.

Kerr's actions were described by Justice Warwick Gendall as "seriously corrupt" in April last year when he was banned for life by the Judicial Control Authority for Racing.

The charges had been brought by the Racing Integrity Unit.

The JCA had been told that Kerr had lost almost $1 million through betting on harness, thoroughbred and greyhound racing over two years, through the Australian betting agency Ladbrokes.

Defence counsel Kerry Cook said today Kerr had lost a job offer as a car salesman, but had completed training and was now working as "essentially an apprentice photographer".

He offered to pay $25 a week in reparations over the next five years - a total of $6500, towards reparations that the police have totalled at $66,176. Cook said the reparations were a realistic offer, and urged that a home detention sentence be allowed in place of prison.

Judge Michelle Duggan said that Kerr had sold a fictitious horse for $40,000 and then invoiced the buyer $26,000 for training and other fees. He also sent photographs of the fictitious horse when the owner pressed him.

Between 2017 and 2020, Kerr invoiced six horse owners for training costs but also for insurance premiums for policies that did not exist.

He forged the signature of a horse owner, reducing their share of the ownership of one horse.

"It was a significant sum of money that you effectively stole from the victims," said the judge.

"I accept that you have been punished in part by what has been described as a fall from grace or a loss of face, and the publicity that has been attached to your charges. You lost the business you were operating, and significantly the ability to participate in harness racing because you are subject to a life ban."

Community Corrections assessed Kerr's risk of offending in a similar manner as low because he had already attended 16 rehabilitation sessions at the Salvation Army's Oasis programme.

She noted he had taken responsibility for the offending and had offered to attend a restorative justice meeting with his victims. He had done voluntary work, to try to make some amends.

She said his reparation offer was realistic though she accepted it would feel unfair to the victims, because of the amount he had taken from them.

-By David Clarkson
Open Justice multimedia journalist