by Monte Sahlin

By Adventist Today News Team, November 20, 2013
Updated November 23

Friday (November 22) Damas Tutehau Flohr (age 69) pleaded guilty to seven counts of fraud in Dunedin (New Zealand) District Court. He was immediately convicted and will be sentenced in December. Court proceedings commenced Monday against the Seventh-day Adventist Church member who conned members of the Dunedin Adventist congregation out of nearly $850,000 (New Zealand currency worth about $705,000 in the United States at current exchange rates). Flohr “persuaded the pastor and his wife, two other couples and four individuals to advance him $853,000 when he was having financial difficulties,” according to The New Zealand Herald.
 
On Tuesday the Otago Daily Times reported that Flohr “denies dishonestly causing losses of $198,692.98 to Audrey and Edward Hagan, between April and September 2009; $305,709.92 to Evelyn Wordsworth, between September 2008 and September 2009; $246,519.31 to Melvyn and Lynette Trevena, between December 2008 and December 2009; $59,000 to Neeltjie Gaudelius between December 2008 and July 2009; $2500 to Janice McCraw in June 2009; $3800 to Surrey and Diane Watts, in March 2009; and $36,993.15 to Kathleen Bowman between December 2008 and February 2009.”

Flohr approached each of the donors separately, telling them “he had $30 million [US] due from an oil contract in Nigeria, money available in the United States of America and the United Kingdom and property interests in Tahiti that he could sell to cover the funds if necessary,” said The New Zealand Herald. A government analyst told the court the claims were “obviously scams” or had “all the hallmarks of a scam.”
 
The trial is taking place in the Dunedin District Court. Melvyn Trevena was the Seventh-day Adventist pastor in Dunedin from 2002 to 2009. Trevena says Flohr contacted him in 2007, requesting financial help. Because of their long-term friendship dating back to the 1960s at Longburn Adventist College, Trevena originally gave Flohr $4,000, but after additional requests by Flohr, Trevena gave him a total of $246,519.31.
 
Evelyn Wordsworth, who has known Flohr since college in the 1960s, became suspicious after giving Flohr more than $305,000. When Wordsworth began investigating Flohr's purported business ventures, she discovered the false information Flohr had used to solicit funds.
 
Wordsworth and others confronted Flohr, but he claimed he did not have their money. Flohr explained that an ambassador who had attempted to bring approximately one million dollars to New Zealand—money ostensibly for them—had not been allowed to enter the country.
 
During the second day of the trial on Tuesday, the Otago Daily Times reported that retired pastor Trevena “denied encouraging members of his congregation to lend money” to Flohr. Trevena also denied partnering with Flohr in the deceptions, though Flohr and his wife did live with Melvyn and Lynette Trevena at one point. “To a suggestion that, by early 2009, his financial affairs and Flohr's were interlinked, Mr Trevena said he was certainly not part of the accused's business,” reported the newspaper, though Trevena did admit to having a joint account with Flohr that he had not revealed to police.
 
Trevena also had contacted a professor in the United States about using his U.S. bank account for receiving a portion of the funds. Rather than being evidence of a partnership, Trevena claimed he simply had been naïve in his efforts to reclaim his loaned funds.
 
Adventist Today will update this story when more information becomes available. The trial could last up to three weeks.