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Picking up the pieces in Lower Hutt – by Huia Peachey



I first met Chantelle at The Remakery Cafe on Waiwhetu Road.  New Zealand was slowly coming out of a Covid lockdown.  We were cautiously moving our bubbles outside but wary about blending them with others’ once we got there.  Chantelle was with her two year old son, I was with mine.  We all quickly forgot health authority warnings amidst the urge to spend time with people our own ages.


Intelligent and friendly, Chantelle was a stay at home mum to a blended family of three, with another on the way.  Her husband was an apprentice builder from Paraguay.  She didn’t make a big deal of it but money was tight.  I got the impression that she was used to that, and anyway, she had other priorities.

 

She had salt-of-the-earth energy and an envious command of gentle parenting.  We friended each other on Facebook and agreed to catch up.

 

The story, when it broke, came to my attention via Chantelle’s Facebook posts.  The details are written elsewhere and I’m writing to a word limit so I won’t repeat them here, except to say Chantelle and her husband lost five years of scrimping, saving, and sacrifice all on a single income.  Or $18,760 in monetary terms.

 

There was an immediate outpouring of sympathy and best wishes from her Facebook friends.  When I suggested setting up a Givealittle page she wasn’t sure, she didn’t want to impose, especially during a cost of living crisis.  It wasn’t all modesty, I sensed an undercurrent of pride in her reluctance.  But I wasn’t the only one encouraging her so eventually she agreed to two of us joining forces and setting up a page on her behalf.  She was worried though, concerned it might look as though she were leveraging media attention for her own gain.  “Who cares?” one of us said.  “Trolls will be trolls,” said the other.

 

In a few weeks the page raised just over half the amount lost, enough for Zayd, her asthmatic four year old, to have new windows in his bedroom.  She sent me photos of the windows being delivered, more when they were later installed.  I sensed a weight had been lifted.  “We didn’t want Zayd to have to live through another damp, drafty winter,” she said.

 

The page has been open for a little over a month now and the donations have slowed to a stop. But Chantelle is grateful for the sense of community that’s come out of this.

 

Up until recently details about the two men at the centre of this scandal were easily accessible via Google.  Those details suggest a professional couple who found themselves quickly out of their depth with what was likely a side hustle for at least one of them.  With over $3 million of known debt accumulated in just four years and $3000 in weekly interest payments, a lot of questions are raised; how blurred is the line between bad business practices and criminal ones?  Did they know they were crossing that line?  How much was due to misplaced confidence and creative cashflow, and how much was simply stealing with no intention to deliver?

 

Over the last few days I’ve become increasingly curious about the balance of good and bad in these men.  Chantelle tells me she’s spent hours pondering it over, looking them up on social media.  “It’s been helpful in processing it but the kids end up suffering,” she says, “since I’m always on my phone these days.”  She forwards me a series of short interviews with some of those affected, a woman who had considered herself their best friend and with whom they had gone on holiday when the stress of the failing business had been too much to handle.  “It really hurts to feel so humiliated,” she says through tears.  Another who struggles to reconcile the condolences they gave her for the death

of her father-in-law with their barefaced theft.  “They’re horrible people,” she says.

 

Chantelle tells me she’s been angry, though I’ve not seen it.  I reassure her the men will have plenty of time to think about their crime in prison and when they struggle to return to normal life. “They’ll be thinking about this long after you’ve stopped,” I say.  “Sure,” she responds, “but only if they go to prison.”

 

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: The owners of Ameribuild Limited (in liquidation) must be presumed not guilty until a court finds otherwise.  The next hearing in the Hutt Valley District Court will be on Tuesday 7 May and it is likely that interim name suppression will be opposed.  The charges are obtaining by deception and failing to comply with obligations in relation to a computer search.  We understand that the latter charge relates to refusing to supply passwords that might allow a forensic accountant to find out where the money went and/or whether some of it is recoverable as voidable preferences or “tainted gifts”.

 

The link to the Braders’ Givealittle page is here.

 


 

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