‘Lie after lie’: Farmer swindled out of $60k after high school coach secretly sold cattle
Te Awamutu man Mark Harrison, 43, has gone from being awarded Coach of the Year in September to now serving a home detention sentence for forgery and theft by a person in a special relationship. Photo / NZME
An elderly farmer hopes he’s still alive to be paid back by the grazier who leased his 98 cattle before secretly selling them, pocketing all the profits.
Mark Harrison, who is also the Te Awamutu College Rugby Club president and this year won its coveted Coach of the Year award, avoided jail on charges of forgery and theft by a person in a special relationship but has agreed to pay $60,000 back to his 82-year-old victim.
As well as selling the retired dry-stock farmer’s cattle, Harrison was also charged with forging a document in relation to separate offending involving 150 Friesian dairy-cross cows that a family grazing company had bought.
Harrison is also the former general manager of VetEnt GC Limited, formerly GrazCare Limited, and together with that company and his former operations manager Christopher Wilson, was fined a total of $93,000 in the Invercargill District Court last year after they each pleaded guilty to a representative charge of ill-treatment of animals.
The Ministry for Primary Industries laid the charges after an investigation into a calf-rearing operation involving up to 1800 animals at an Invercargill farm in 2017.
Of the 1769 calves sent to the farm between August and October that year, 457 died.
The 98 disappearing cattle
The victim and Harrison met in late 2018.
Between 2019 and 2020, Harrison took over the control and responsibility of the farmer’s herd of 98 prime Hereford cattle, which were grazing at a farm dubbed “the quarry” that Harrison was leasing near Kawhia.
In early 2022, Harrison sold eight of the herd to Silver Fern Farms.
On May 13, he sold a further 23 through the Morrinsville saleyards and was paid more than $13,000.
He sold a further 25 cattle on June 10 – pocketing more than $15,000 – and on July 2 he sold 30 at an “undervalued price”.
The sales were unauthorised and the victim was not paid any money.
A few months later, in October, the farmer asked Harrison about his cattle as he wanted to prepare them for sale.
“That’s the kind of impact your offending has had, Mr Harrison. It has a ripple effect. It’s not just the victim but the victim’s family,” Judge Marshall told him.
‘Not flush with cash’
Police prosecutor Jessica Ria took issue at the $60,000 reparation figure, labelling it “conservative”, and urged the judge not to issue any discount for remorse given Harrison’s comments in the pre-sentence report that he had only changed his plea to guilty because he’d run out of money to fight the charges.
Asked about the reparation payment by the judge, Harrison’s counsel Richard Smith said there was “conjecture” around the figure as “there’s no certainty as to what it should be”.
Harrison was not “flush with cash and in fact, quite the opposite”, Smith said, adding that his client would need to pay reparation back to the victim over time.
“It seems to me that although you have your difficulties with your mental health issues, you have sought to rely on your old reputation that at one time you were a valued member of the community, but now you have fallen from that position.”
As Harrison was a first offender, and had the support of his family, Judge Marshall sentenced him to six months’ home detention, rejecting defence submissions he should get a sentence of community detention.
Asked about the result by NZME outside court, the victim said he was pleased to get reparation awarded but hoped it would be paid sooner rather than later.
“Under all the circumstances, if I can get it in not too long, so I can make use of it, I am happy about that. I think they’ve done a good job to get that [reparation], absolutely.”
Belinda Feek is an Open Justice reporter based in Waikato. She has worked at NZME for eight years and been a journalist for 19.