Roger Moses tells of disgrace, shock and life in jail
For a man who celebrated his 70th birthday in prison rubbing shoulders with some of New Zealand’s most notorious criminals, Roger Moses is remarkably gung-ho.
But behind the breezy exterior there are flashes of frustration and bewilderment at the price he has paid for his involvement in the collapse of Nathans Finance.
The former non-executive chairman of the finance company which went belly up in 2007 owing $174 million to 7000 investors, has spoken out exclusively about his torrid time to the National Business Review.
In his only media interview, just after being released from eight and a half months in jail, the former pillar of the Auckland financial establishment and co-author of five books on personal financial planning, recalled his “absolute shock” at being sentenced to two years two months behind bars for gross negligence.
“I thought it was very unlikely, mainly because the judge emphasised so often that there was no dishonesty involved and, in my case, no self interest involved, so everyone thought jail was not a likely outcome,” Moses said.
“I hoped home detention was the worst I would get and I was hoping I wouldn’t even get that but I think the judge was under pressure to make an example of us.
“I mean there was a lot of public pressure, so much clamouring for blood in the media and we just happened to be one of the first cabs off the rank.
“And we were certainly all tarnished by a gentleman [Rod Petricevic] who came somewhat later in the piece.”
But at the time none of this really registered with Moses, who turned up at court for sentencing without an overnight bag, let alone a toothbrush.
After a 13-week trial he and fellow directors Mervyn Doolan and Donald Young were found guilty of misleading investors in a Nathans prospectus aimed at raising $100 million from the public.
Young was given home detention and Doolan – due to be released any day – jailed for two years and four months.
The money was destined primarily to fund activities carried out by Nathans’ parent company VTL, a vending machine franchise business struggling to break into the US and European markets.
Clearly, Justice Paul Heath took a particularly dim view of Moses’ role in this, because in next to no time Moses found himself being led from the courthouse to a prison van, where he was handcuffed, locked in an iron cage and driven to the Auckland Central Remand Prison at Mt Eden.
For someone who has served with distinction on many professional and charitable bodies, such as the Institute of Directors, Chamber Music NZ, Plunket NZ, the NZ Symphony Orchestra Foundation, the Auckland Cricket Development Foundation, not to mention his long association with the Auckland Jewish community, it was a swift and brutal fall from grace.
“I was in absolute shock. I can remember part of what happened after sentencing but I think for the first 24 hours after sentencing I was fairly non-compus [mentis] and everything was a blur. I couldn’t believe what was going on.”
And neither could his wife of 46 years, Barbara, who was in complete shock at the sudden and dramatic turn of events.
She feared for his wellbeing because he has a number of chronic and potentially life threatening medical conditions.
“It was the most appalling, hideous shock when Roger, an honest man who had been good, caring and charitable, nearly 70 years of age and in poor health, was sentenced to prison when he fell well within the home detention area.
“Now I’m not forgetting the investors but I thought it would kill Roger outright and the fact that he has survived it says a lot about his strength.”
Once at Mt Eden Moses swapped his suit for prison garb.
“I turned up in quite a good suit and I was wearing this expensive Tag Heuer watch which I’d been given. Fortunately one of the inmates who was handing out clothes said to me: “You’d better get your wife to pick that up, mate, it’ll be gone in 10 minutes otherwise.”
The same inmate also gave him some friendly advice when prison staff asked him which wing he wished to be incarcerated in.
“He said to me “go to segs mate, go to segs.”
“I didn’t know what segs was but I found out it was segregated as opposed to mainstream so when they asked me I said segs and fortunately that was the right decision.
“In segs you have much better conditions. You don’t have the huge gang influence and things like that.”
Then it was off to his cell for the night and yet another surreal moment in a surreal day.
“I was hauled up to the cell about 7.30pm and walked past these cells and all these faces were peering out of little windows and several of them said, “Mate, I’ve just seen you on TV.”
And so began a six-week stint at the “Mount” where he shared a cell with a 29-year-old drug offender.
The two of them could not have been more unlikely cellmates; he an elderly well-to-do Pakeha businessman from Remuera, who had never seen the inside of a prison before, and his companion, a relatively young Maori career criminal from the wrong side of town.
Roger Moses story continues in PART TWO: Sharing a jail cell, learning the ropes