Smoke and mirrors: The story of a thieving ‘trader’ with many names
Rod Richard Makatea and Rodney Crichton are the same person.
And Rodney Crichton is Rodney McCall.
For this story let’s use Rodney McCall – it was the name a judge used when sentencing the man in a beige trench coat standing in the Manukau District Court.
McCall has been described as a salesman and someone with a history of part-time building and labouring work.
But it was when he would pass himself off to prospective investors as a “senior financial analyst” and experienced “trader” that people began to lose their money.
McCall had worked for the now infamous Prosper Through Trading Limited (PTT) from February 2015 to August 2015 selling share trading packages.
PTT’s director was Steven Robertson, an Auckland businessman known for running several companies to allow clients to trade on the New Zealand and Australian share and commodities markets.
However, behind the mansion, fast cars and private jets, Robertson was operating a $10 million Ponzi scheme. He was nothing more than a crook misappropriating money from his clients to fund a lavish lifestyle.
Robertson would boast of his financial exploits, claiming he was “as good as John Key”.
One victim would later describe him as someone who could sell ice to an Eskimo.
But he is now languishing in a Corrections’ facility, imprisoned in 2019 for six years and eight months with a non-parole period of three years and four months. Robertson lost an appeal of his sentence in June.
Sadly, some of the PTT’s victims would be targeted again – by McCall.
After PTT was placed into receivership in 2015, McCall began to cold-call clients who had invested with Robertson.
McCall went about convincing some to deposit the money into his personal Kiwibank account, which was held under the name of “Mr Rodney Crichton”.
He did so by claiming they either needed to invest more to access or activate their pre-existing trading accounts with PTT, that PTT had a new investment opportunity for them, or they should double down and invest more because their original investments were going well.
It was all a ruse, and as it developed, a new company was incorporated, Morgan Cooper Limited (MCL).
Later in court, Judge Charles Blackie said McCall used a combination of names which were familiar to companies already operating in the financial world, such as investment bank Morgan Stanley.
The motivation, the judge added, came once it became apparent he could no longer shelter under PTT’s web of deceit.
But McCall seemingly wasn’t one to change, he simply modelled his new business on the operations of PTT, and adopted the same fraudulent tactics.
The cash he extracted from clients – totalling $70,031.74 – was spent on himself, including for online gambling, food, alcohol, rent and even phone and internet bills.
None of the clients, who were mostly elderly mum and dad investors, received any profits from their investments or any refunds.
All of McCall’s victims suffered a severe impact on their financial wellbeing, some lost their entire life savings, and most are yet to receive any reparation.
MCL began on September 11, 2015.
Its sole director and shareholder, however, was not McCall but his half-sister, Vannessa Sheerin-Crichton.
Although McCall wasn’t formally associated with MCL, he still effective had control over the company at all times.
MCL purported to offer foreign currency exchange trading services and its clients invested by purchasing a “mirror trading programme”. This was described by MCL as the company conducting forex trades on clients’ behalves, which would be mirrored in an investor’s trading account.
Advertising material on MCL’s website and in brochures also claimed MCL was a proven company providing forex services to investors, with trading expertise and advanced technologies. And the company said its services included an educational component, to educate clients about the FX and commodities markets.
McCall also claimed MCL’s mirror trading programme was approved by the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) as well as Inland Revenue.
It was all part of McCall’s scam.
Judge Blackie described the advertising as “elaborate techniques” to get people to part with their money.
Along with cold-calling former PTT clients, McCall also sought out potential new investors with unsolicited emails and phone calls.
Some victims have recalled being contacted by a person from MCL named “Rodney”.
They said he was the person they dealt with when deciding whether to invest with the company.
During his sales pitches, victims said, McCall called himself a “senior financial analyst” at MCL. He said he was with a sizeable company with extensive history and a number of professional traders employed in its Queen St office in Auckland.
Prospective clients also recall McCall mentioning mirror trades, while some said they were told their funds would be “leveraged” and held separately by MCL, rather than actually invested or used to make trades.
They took that to mean they could withdraw their funds from the mirror programme at any time and, most importantly, their money was safe.
McCall also made grand promises to his victims, including a guaranteed minimum profit of up to $15,000 within an investor’s first 12 months or their investment would be refunded.
But those who gave money to McCall and MCL soon experienced difficulties when trying to contact him or any company representative to discuss their investment or access their trading accounts.
Court documents show there is also no evidence to suggest the funds paid into the Crichton Kiwibank account or the MCL ANZ account were traded on any currency market or invested in any financial product.
McCall's promise of quick returns
In 2015, McCall contacted one of PTT’s clients, Mr D, and introduced himself on the phone as Rodney Crichton.
He told Mr D he’d taken over at PTT and had been observing his investment with the company. He said it was making a good profit.
However, he soon pivoted to pitching another company, MCL.
Because of PTT’s troubles, he told Mr D he could get his investment back in a matter of days if he funded his trading account with a further $2000.
The man transferred the money, believing it was to a MCL account, when in fact it went straight into to McCall’s personal account.
No papers were signed and once the money arrived McCall disappeared. They never spoke over the phone again.
Several others fell victim to McCall just like Mr D, including one woman who was told if she invested more money he would provide her with a master password.
This password, he claimed, would let her see where her money was being invested and how it was performing.
After she paid more money, McCall was gone.
Another man who had also previously invested with PTT was contacted by McCall in October 2015.
McCall explained a mistake had been made and PTT was including him in a mirror trading programme. PTT had started trading on on the man’s behalf with “ghost money”, he was told, and already added more than $4000 in his account.
It was all another ruse to win the man’s trust and eventually see him deposit an additional $2000 into McCall’s account.
Other promises McCall made to his victims talked of quick returns by taking advantage of a “shift in the market”, including an outrageous 300 per cent return for its investors.
McCall told some the average return for investors was 17 per cent per annum, that seven out of 10 trades were profitable, and they could secure “VIP privileges” where PTT would cover any losses for the first six months of trading.
He even said returns were guaranteed by the ANZ Bank.
As suspicions grew, one victim was assured via a text from McCall that she was not being scammed and an account summary showing a profit of more than $2100 was sent to her.
But the account summary was false – it had the wrong name on it.
In one desperate attempt, McCall also unsuccessfully tried to directly use one man’s credit card number to take thousands of dollars.
McCall tried to pull the wool over FMA's eyes
As part of the investigation into PTT, McCall was given a notice on November 10, 2015 requiring him to give evidence to the FMA.
He gave a compulsory interview seven days later at the FMA offices in Auckland and provided detailed evidence about his former employment as a sales representative at PTT.
But he was also giving evidence to the FMA, knowing it to be false or misleading.
He said he was not known as Rodney Crichton.
This was despite McCall’s birth certificate recording his birth name as Rod Richard Makatea and including changes to Rodney Crichton and Rodney McCall.
He also denied having a personal account with Kiwibank.
His lies persisted, despite a customer information sheet on the Kiwibank account holding the date of birth, phone number and email address McCall provided during the FMA interview.
During another interview on May 2, 2018 at the Manurewa Police Station, he continued to deny being known as or knowing a Rodney Crichton, until he accepted it when it was put to him the name was recorded on his birth certificate.
He also finally accepted he was “associated” with MCL.
While the deposits made by investors McCall was charged over was about $70,000, forensic accounting analysis shows the total amount of deposits made by all investors as $99,799.48.
'I'm dealing with someone who is inherently dishonest'
When sentencing McCall a few days before Christmas, Judge Blackie was told the fraudster had only paid two of his victims back a total of about $14,000.
His sentencing had been adjourned twice already because it was anticipated he would be able to pay back all the money he stole.
The con-man also said he had an additional $10,000 he could pay on the spot.
But Judge Blackie was sceptical about the validity of McCall’s claims.
“I’m dealing with a fraudster,” he said. “I’m dealing with someone who is inherently dishonest and I just don’t trust it.”
McCall’s charges, which he pleaded guilty to in June, were to two representative charges of obtaining by deception, one representative charge of dishonestly using a document, and two charges of obstruction of the FMA’s powers under the Financial Markets Authority Act.
Judge Blackie sentenced him to 12 months’ home detention.
He also barred McCall from being involved in the handling of money, giving financial advice, applying for a credit card or loan, and engaging in the affairs of any business, trust or entity unless approved by a probation officer.
Further, McCall’s finances for the purposes of reparation to his victims were to be under the control of a probation officer.
“Those are very strict conditions and they are going to curtail your business activities,” Judge Blackie said.
The conditions will continue for six months after McCall’s home detention ends.
Just days before McCall was sentenced, the High Court also released a judgment which would see Robertson’s victims receive a portion of their money back.
The court approved a pro-rata distribution for creditors of PTT Limited, Robertson and his associated entities.
Receivers and liquidators estimate the victims will likely receive 59.52 cents in the dollar.
FMA general counsel Nick Kynoch said many victims of Robertson and McCall had their trust abused and were plunged into financial uncertainty, some fearing for their retirement prospects.
One of PTT’s victims is now so suspicious of financial people he refuses to deposit money in a bank.
Kynoch said McCall’s sentence reflected the consequences for continuing the PTT fraud.
“He reinvented the scam through a new entity, despite being aware of the FMA’s investigation into PTT and Mr Robertson. This allowed him to continue to target mainly elderly people solely for his own personal gain, many of whom were re-victimised…”
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