The Department of Internal Affairs

Te Tari Taiwhenua | Department of Internal Affairs

Building a safe, prosperous and respected nation


DIA welcomes pokie fraud sentences

13 July 2017

Internal Affairs has welcomed the sentences handed down in the Wellington High Court today in the multi-million dollar gaming machine fraud case.

The Department’s Gambling Compliance Director, Gareth Bostock said it reflects how seriously the court views the misappropriation of community money and sends a strong message over corrupt practices in the gambling sector.

The defendants, Michael Joseph O’Brien (58) of Blenheim, Paul Anthony Max (60) of Nelson and Kevin Coffey (57) of Hastings, were convicted of Crimes Act charges of ‘Obtaining by deception’. Michael O’Brien was sentenced on five charges to 4-1/2 years’ prison and Kevin Coffey, on one charge, to 12 months’ home detention. Paul Max will be sentenced on three charges on 27 July.

The major investigation named Operation Chestnut and prosecuted by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), involved the SFO, the Police’s Organised and Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand (OFCANZ), and Internal Affairs (DIA).

“This multi-agency approach was necessary to break through the criminal behaviour that had developed in some parts of the class 4 gambling sector,” Mr Bostock said. “New Zealand communities should expect the highest integrity from the gambling sector so that community organisations can access grants from gambling societies without the concern that funding is being directed unlawfully.

“The Department has a specialist team of investigators and continues to investigate fraudulent activity in the sector. We have developed an enduring model for working together with the SFO and the Police and will do it again if the need arises.”

Through the Chestnut investigation the Department cancelled the licences of two gambling societies and took steps to ensure that a number of unsuitable people were unable to continue working for societies or the pubs which house pokie machines. The Department is applying a high level of scrutiny to societies before licences are granted or renewed.

“We want to ensure that the right people with the right motives enter the sector and that their activities are consistent with the law,” Mr Bostock said.

“Operation Chestnut was necessary because gambling grant funding was being diverted away from the communities it was meant to serve. The sector needs to create a culture of integrity where this type of behaviour is not tolerated and everyone involved in the industry ‘does the right thing’ by communities.”