Victims of an elaborate fraud scheme rippling through the region have spoken out about how the experience has rocked them, yet hope that the man who conned them gets the help he needs.
Shane Sutton, a 22-year-old from Masterton, was sentenced in December at Masterton District Court to three and a half months of home detention and ordered to pay back the majority of victim costs, totalling over $45,000.
Over a year and a half, Sutton defrauded multiple Wairarapa people through fake gardening schemes and second-hand purchases.
His methods included offering services as a landscape gardener, where he would receive a deposit then never show up to complete – or, in some cases, begin – the work.
For other victims, he would pretend to buy second-hand goods but collect items without making a legitimate payment.
A victim of the first set-up [who preferred to stay anonymous] told the Times-Age she was ripped off by about $1300 at the end of 2022.
“I work hard for all the money I make,” she said.
“When he came round and measured, I thought, ‘good on you’ and went ahead with hiring him since I’d used other local contractors to do garden work before.
“That’s when it all went to custard.”
After transferring Sutton an agreed amount for the stone and wood needed, the person said it became very difficult to communicate with him.
“Last minute, he’d cancel coming out to do the work for various reasons,” she said.
“For example, he had to get his heavy vehicle licence, which took all day, and then someone got sick.”
The woman’s final straw was when she had to cancel an appointment in Wellington that had been booked a year in advance because Sutton said he would do the job that day and then didn’t show.
After finding someone else to do the work,
she asked Sutton for a refund and was “completely ghosted”.
“From that point on, it all went dark, and he blocked my number.”
The person said she hadn’t initially gone to the police and believed she was the only one affected by Sutton’s ruse until seeing a Facebook post from someone else in the same situation.
“I saw how many people commented and were affected, and just thought, ‘now this is getting out of hand; this guy is getting away with murder.”
Although it had been a demoralising experience, the person noted that the support from local police had been “fantastic and reassuring”.
During Sutton’s sentencing, Judge Katie Elkin mentioned that many of his victims were pensioners.
One victim in her mid-70s living in Carterton, Robyn Gray – who posted the aforementioned Facebook post – said she must have had about 30 replies from people in the same boat.
“It was quite amazing how it opened a can of worms and how many people came out of the woodwork.”
Gray said she had received a flier in her letterbox advertising Sutton’s landscaping services, and she contacted him about trimming a small hedge at her property in January last year.
She said Sutton completed this and did a good job, so she asked him if he could complete some other paving work in her garden.
He sent a quote, and when he asked Gray to send money for the materials he needed, she obliged.
“He said he needed the money upfront to buy the pavers, which is quite normal, I thought,” Gray said.
“I should have gone to Mitre 10 myself and stuck to my guns.”
She transferred across $1800 and said that after a few weeks, when she’d failed to receive the goods, she found him dodging all her calls.
“He disappeared online, then he said he’d lost his phone, then he said he had covid and that went on and on.”
While she was pleased that the ordeal was finally over, Gray admitted the experience had left her less trusting of interactions online.
“It does make you feel a bit suspicious of anybody.”
She said she hoped Sutton had support around him and wouldn’t resort to past habits in time.
“He’s only young; if he could turn his life around, that would be good.”