Family celebrations, including a healing wedding and a 50th birthday party, were ruined when Anita Cranston took thousands of dollars in deposits for a luxury Fiji holiday home at the centre of legal action, a court has been told.
Cranston denies 24 charges of using documents to get deposits totalling over $60,000 for the $2.5 million holiday home in Denarau.
The Crown says Cranston and her partner spent the money received from 19 people to maintain a lifestyle that included a rented apartment in Auckland’s Sentinel building.
Leonie Wallace told Cranston’s defended hearing in the Auckland District Court today that her family was looking forward to celebrating her brother’s wedding in Fiji a year after her mother was murdered.
She said she emailed Cranston a number of times in January 2011 before phoning her to confirm the booking and paying a $2625 deposit.
“The tone was very friendly and I guess that’s what made it possible to open up,” she told the court.
But after media reports of a police investigation into Cranston and her now deceased partner Craig Mudgeway, Ms Wallace said she tried to get her money back.
She said Cranston emailed her to say they were trying to get money out of a finance company but the deadline came and went and Ms Wallace never saw a cent.
Her family had to find alternative accommodation at a hotel which ended up costing them an extra $5000.
Dunedin accountant Paul Moodie booked Cranston’s holiday home at the same time as Ms Wallace.
He hoped to celebrate his 50th birthday with friends and family and paid $6375 in two deposits.
Mr Moodie said he found the house on holidayhomes.co.nz and said it looked “luxurious”.
“The photos were gorgeous. There were plenty of rooms for my adult children to have a room to themselves.”
He said the flights were booked and a rental car organised when he saw media reports alleging Cranston was involved in a scam.
Despite asking for a refund, Mr Moodie said he never saw his money again.
Under cross-examination from Cranston’s lawyer Alice Kemp, Mr Moodie confirmed that he did not know what steps were taken to recover his deposit.
In her opening address, Ms Kemp said that while her client could be open to civil action, she had not committed a criminal offence.
“In brief, there was no dishonesty here.”
But Crown prosecutor Rachael Reed said Cranston knew the property had been the subject of legal action in the High Court in Nadi and had double-booked some customers.
Ms Reed said Mudgeway bought the property in 2008 but two years later he was defaulting on the loan payments and legal action in the High Court in Fiji saw him lose the property the following year.
At the same time Mudgeway had promised to sell the property to partly cover a $40 million debt with Westpac Bank. He ended up being bankrupted.
Ms Reed said that despite the legal action, Cranston continued taking deposits for the home.
“The Crown says this is a case about a women’s fixation with her own lifestyle that led her to take advantage of others.”
She said the couple were living off the deposits and spending the money on rent for their $850 per week apartment in the Sentinel at Takapuna. Ms Reed said a further $20,000 was spent on hotels and motels around the country and $30,000 on food and alcohol
The hearing, before Judge David Harvey, is set down for two weeks.