A founding member of a popular Auckland-based reggae band is in prison for nearly $2 million in tax evasion, which included splurging money on a lavish lifestyle, allegedly giving cash to band members, and funding his nephew’s music career.
Businessman and musician Sione Na’aniumotu Pome’e formed Three Houses Down with his brothers in 2004. The band have toured and played alongside international acts such as UB40 and their founding member and original vocalist, Ali Campbell.
Pome’e was also the sole director of Pomee Engineering Services from 2012 until 2019, when the labour-hire company went into liquidation.
In his business endeavours, however, he siphoned $1.86m by not paying Inland Revenue (IRD) for employees’ deductions for income tax, KiwiSaver and student loans.
“Instead of paying tax he chose to use the money to fund personal and lifestyle choices and admitted using company funds for significant personal spending,” IRD said in a statement.
He was sentenced by Manukau District Court Judge Gabrielle Wagner to two years and three months’ prison earlier this year after he pleaded guilty to 66 charges.
According to court documents, about $1m “was transferred to a joint account in the name of Mr Pome’e and his uncle” and otherwise used for overseas travel, personal shopping (including high-end retail stores), and several loans or gifts to himself, employees and others.
Authorities said the spending included a nearly $110,000 loan or gift for a vehicle, a gift of $85,000 to a relative who was also in the band, and a transfer of more than $25,000 to Jamaican Money Market for his nephew’s music career.
During an appeal hearing last week in the High Court at Auckland, Pome’e’s lawyer Samuel Moore argued Judge Wagner erred in ordering a “manifestly excessive” sentence of over two years. If his client’s sentence was reduced by just a “small margin” so that it was under two years, Pome’e would be eligible to potentially serve the rest of the sentence via home detention, he noted.
“We’re not asking for much,” he said.
Pome’e was not brought to court for the hearing, but seven members of his family sat in the courtroom as Justice Geoffrey Venning heard the appeal request.
During Pome’e’s sentencing hearing in May, Judge Wagner had a starting point of four years and six months, but she then allowed discounts of 25 per cent for his guilty pleas, 5 per cent for personal factors, 5 per cent for his good work in Samoa and Tonga and 15 per cent “to take account of the total reparation that had been made” – noting it was anticipated another $200,000 was likely to be paid.
The sentence could have been under two years had the judge also given Pome’e credit for remorse or given additional credit for reparations, Moore said, noting that $366,000 of the reparations were paid voluntarily through the sale of the family home while a further $349,000 was involuntarily recovered. In addition, Moore suggested, the amount of unpaid taxes may have been overestimated by up to $200,000.
But lawyer Rob McDonald, acting on behalf of IRD, argued the sentencing judge was well within her bounds in the sentence that was handed down. He noted that Pome’e still owes IRD more than $1.1m – including the $200,000 in additional reparations that Pome’e told the sentencing judge he would pay.
In a reserved decision released on Friday afternoon, Justice Venning agreed the existing sentence for Pome’e is appropriate.
Justice Venning said it was not his place to “revisit or relitigate” the amount of money Pome’e is accused of having siphoned, given that the amount was already accepted by the defendant as part of the agreed summary of facts produced as part of his guilty pleas.
“Mr Pome’e and his advisers have had plenty of time to address any disputed basis for sentencing,” Justice Venning said, noting that there was an entire year between Pome’e’s guilty plea in May 2021 and his sentencing hearing five months ago.
Justice Venning also disagreed that the sentencing judge erred in not giving a discount for remorse.
“It was open to the judge to accept that any remorse was effectively in hindsight and effectively self-serving given the situation Mr Pome’e was in,” Justice Venning added. “The [pre-sentence] report noted Mr Pome’e said he was remorseful, but then went on to note he put forward a consistent rationale that centred around what he described as having an obligation of responsibility to maintain some level of financial remuneration for his staff.
“Further, the suggestion of remorse does not address the $1 million transfer to the joint account with his uncle or the personal spending.”
Furthermore, Justice Venning said, the sentencing judge’s “allowances of 10 per cent in total for personal issues and good character were perhaps generous”.
Despite having his appeal dismissed, Pome’e is unlikely to spend too much more time in jail. He may be eligible for parole by February, his lawyer said.
In an undated interview with thecoconet.tv prior to his business going into liquidation, Pome’e acknowledged that he’s known mostly for his music career, but discussed the rewards and stress of also having a business that employed over 36 people.
“Most people don’t know that I’m a design engineer full-time and I also own my own construction company,” he said. “As an engineer, I’ve done a lot of design work for some of the prominent buildings around Auckland, but not many people would know that.
This content was originally published here.