Fi­nance ex­ec­u­tive’s bizarre drug-fu­elled of­fend­ing tar­geted bun­nies

Herald on Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - Sam Hur­ley — Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Chris Mar­riner

A once high-fly­ing Kiwi busi­ness­man ap­peared to have all the trap­pings of suc­cess. But he was also be­hind what was de­scribed as one of Aus­tralia’s worst cases of an­i­mal cru­elty. Then in 2016 pet rab­bits started to dis­ap­pear from hutches in sub­ur­ban Auck­land. Af­ter more than two years of fight­ing through the courts, the Her­ald on Sun­day can re­veal Fer­gus McMa­hon’s bizarre story.

‘There is no case sim­i­lar to this ’

Judge Ema Aitken

Aformer fi­nance ex­ec­u­tive has been caught steal­ing rab­bits from Auck­land’s sub­ur­ban back­yards late at night.

The Her­ald on Sun­day can also re­veal he is the same busi­ness­man who was jailed and later ac­quit­ted in Aus­tralia for what was de­scribed as “one of the worst-case sce­nar­ios of ag­gra­vated cru­elty to animals”.

Now Fer­gus Rebel McMa­hon, 51, will be mon­i­tored and kept on a nightly cur­few to pre­vent the bizarre of­fend­ing from oc­cur­ring again.

His New Zealand case, which the Her­ald on Sun­day can re­port to­day af­ter fight­ing a le­gal bat­tle to lift a more than two-year blan­ket sup­pres­sion or­der, be­gan in 2016 when at least 15 rab­bits went miss­ing from huts and cages around Auck­land.

Po­lice re­leased CCTV footage of one of the thefts in Septem­ber that year in the hope the public could help them find the bunny thief.

When of­fi­cers caught the of­fender they didn’t imag­ine he would be the di­rec­tor of a fi­nance firm.

They also could hardly have imag­ined he was Bren­dan Fran­cis McMa­hon, the per­son re­spon­si­ble for what a Syd­ney mag­is­trate called “one of the worst case(s)” of ag­gra­vated an­i­mal cru­elty in Aus­tralia.

Dur­ing the mid-2000s, McMa­hon was ar­rested af­ter dead or dy­ing animals — some of which had been skinned — were found in and around his down­town Syd­ney of­fice.

At the time, McMa­hon helped to man­age Meares-McMa­hon Cap­i­tal, a fi­nan­cial plan­ning and mort­gage bro­ker­age, with Ja­son Meares, the brother of Aus­tralian model and fash­ion de­signer Jodhi Meares.

The al­le­ga­tions against McMa­hon in­cluded the tor­ture and mu­ti­la­tion of 17 rab­bits and a guinea pig.

He also faced a charge of bes­tial­ity, but this was later with­drawn.

McMa­hon was jailed for 16 months in July 2006 but the New Zealand­born man’s Aus­tralian con­vic­tions were later quashed on ap­peal due to men­tal ill­ness, which was trig­gered in­part by his drug use.

Af­ter McMa­hon re­turned to Auck­land he changed his name from Bren­dan to Fer­gus as he re­sumed his fi­nance ca­reer.

He even­tu­ally be­gan work­ing as the di­rec­tor of project fi­nance at Prop­erty Fi­nance Part­ners in 2016, but he re­lapsed and be­gan to use drugs again, while his predilec­tion for rab­bits also re­turned.

McMa­hon started con­tact­ing the own­ers of rab­bits, who were ei­ther breed­ing or sell­ing them, on­line.

Then, late at night, he would sneak on to their prop­erty to take the animals from cages and hutches.

He did this to eight animals over an 18-month pe­riod as 22 sep­a­rate prop­er­ties across Auck­land were bur­gled.

One pet owner who was tar­geted told the Her­ald on Sun­day: “I heard this hu­man noise from my win­dow at one o’clock in the morn­ing or some­thing and the thought crossed my mind — bunny bur­glar?”

But she dis­missed the idea be­cause she wasn’t a breeder.

“Then I heard the squealing of my rab­bits,” she re­called. “I woke my part­ner up.”

McMa­hon stole four rab­bits that night, but a rab­bit named Lucky sur­vived. “[The po­lice] came straight away, which we knew was some­thing a bit weird as well, for them to come so quickly for rab­bits,” the owner said.

“You stole rab­bits,” Judge Ema Aitken said, when sen­tenc­ing McMa­hon in the Auck­land District Court in May this year.

McMa­hon in­sisted he re­leased the animals into the wild, be­liev­ing he was lib­er­at­ing them from their hutches or from their own­ers.

But the court also heard he has lit­tle re­call about what ex­actly hap­pened when he stole the rab­bits and strug­gled to de­ter­mine “what was real and what was not”.

Some of the vic­tims also be­came aware of McMa­hon’s Aus­tralian case and feared the worst for their pets, while oth­ers have now in­creased se­cu­rity around their homes.

“There was be­hav­iour that took place in Aus­tralia that could be broadly de­scribed as sim­i­lar,” Judge Aitken said. “How­ever, they were al­le­ga­tions of much more se­ri­ous con­duct in­volv­ing the harm and death of rab­bits.”

She said there “is no case sim­i­lar to this Mr McMa­hon”, and turned to cases of rustling and mul­ti­ple bur­glar­ies for le­gal guid­ance when sen­tenc­ing him.

“This was ob­vi­ously pre­med­i­tated and well-planned of­fend­ing,” Judge Aitken said, adding that the key driver to the of­fend­ing was McMa­hon’s metham­phetamine use.

From May last year McMa­hon was a res­i­dent at Odyssey House as he at­tempted to curb his drug ad­dic­tion.

“It would ap­pear that you have made sig­nif­i­cant gains in terms of your re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion,” Judge Aitken.

But the judge said she had to “de­nounce and to de­ter [McMa­hon’s] of­fend­ing” and pro­tect his vic­tims.

In all, McMa­hon pleaded guilty to 11 charges, eight of which were rep­re­sen­ta­tive for 22 in­stances of bur­glary.

He also faced two other theft charges for steal­ing rab­bits and one count of care­less driv­ing.

Judge Aitken sen­tenced him to four months’ com­mu­nity de­ten­tion, with a nightly cur­few, and 15 months’ in­ten­sive su­per­vi­sion. She said this “should give the com­mu­nity some com­fort that the au­thor­i­ties will know where you are at night”.

McMa­hon was also or­dered to pay $2735 in repa­ra­tions to the vic­tims and con­victed and dis­charged on the driv­ing charge. He has other his­tor­i­cal un­re­lated con­vic­tions.

The au­thor­i­ties will know where you are at night. Judge Ema Aitken

Fer­gus Rebel McMa­hon

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