An accountant who swindled $726,000 from a family trust arrived at court yesterday steeled for a stretch behind bars.
John Lawrence Hibbard, 60, clutched a large holdall bag as he entered the courtroom, flanked by distressed family members, and placed it beside the dock.
Dressed in a dark pin-stripe suit and burgundy tie, the white collar fraudster thanked the judge politely as he was jailed for three years, nine months.
He touched hands with his wife briefly as he was led into the cells, where he would swap his expensive suit for clothes more suitable for the less salubrious surrounds of Christchurch Mens' Prison.
Hibbard, of Merivale, had been a successful chartered accountant with his own firm, just 200m from the district court where he appeared for sentencing yesterday.
He had just moved into the bigger Gloucester St offices in 2007 when he took up an "exciting" business opportunity to invest in a North American mining company.
But the move coincided with the global economic downturn and he soon found his practice, John L Hibbard Chartered Accountants, floundering.
The well-respected, popular businessman, and "loving husband and father," got desperate.
He decided to dip into a family trust fund which he controlled to try and keep his ailing business afloat.
Adamant the mining investment would come to fruition and bail him out of the hole, he was certain he could pay the money back and the client would be none the wiser.
However, the money never came, and when he realised he was going to be caught, he handed himself in last year.
Since then, the white collar conman's world has come crashing down.
He is in the throes of being struck off the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants register, and in April, was declared bankrupt.
Hibbard had earlier pleaded guilty to five charges of theft by a person in a special relationship.
At the district court yesterday, defence counsel Jonathan Eaton said his client had ``effectively lost everything'', having been disgraced in his profession and his reputation lay in tatters.
He added that Hibbard was not motivated by greed, lifestyle or frivolous spending, but was simply trying to cope with business expenses.
"Mr Hibbard is acutely aware of the harm caused to his family, colleagues, his profession and his victims,'' Mr Eaton said.
Friends were shocked by the respected businessman's actions, but had vowed to back him, putting it down to a "terrible error of judgement''.
Hibbard had also made ``an absolute undertaking'' to pay the money back in full if the overseas mining investment ever paid off, Mr Eaton said.
Police prosecutor Anselm Williams said the crime was aggravated given the breach of trust by a professional man who
was being paid "very well for his services".
"It can't be described in any other way: it was a theft of three quarters of a million dollars''.
Judge David McKegg called it a "sad and serious'' case where a jail term was inevitable given the "high level of trust'' which he breached over a four-year period in taking $726,462.