Elderly farmer swindled by Waikato high school rugby coach Mark Harrison in cash-for-cattle theft

Elderly farmer swindled by Waikato high school rugby coach Mark Harrison in cash-for-cattle theft
Elderly farmer swindled by Waikato high school rugby coach Mark Harrison in cash-for-cattle theft

Te Awamutu man Mark Harrison, 43, has gone from being awarded Coach of the Year in September to now serving a home detention sentence for forgery and theft by a person in a special relationship. Photo / NZME

An elderly farmer hopes he’s still alive to be paid back by the grazier who leased his 98 cattle before secretly selling them, pocketing all the profits.

Mark Harrison, who is also the Te Awamutu College Rugby Club president and this year won his coveted Coach of the Year award, avoided jail on charges of forgery and theft by a person in a special relationship but has agreed to pay $60,000 back to his 82 -year-old victim.

As well as selling the retired dry-stock farmer’s cattle, Harrison was also charged with forging a document in relation to separate offending involving 150 Friesian dairy-cross cows that a family grazing company had purchased.


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The cows were in poor condition, but the company hoped to nurse them back to health so they could become pregnant and on-sold.

There were some deaths, but there were at least 130 and 140 unaccounted for, valued up to $240,000.

The 43-year-old told the company he had a buyer for the cows, however, the company did not receive any money. Harrison drafted a tax invoice which police would later discover to be fake.

The animals were never found. The company didn’t seek repair.


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Harrison is also the former general manager of VetEnt GC Limited, formerly GrazCare Limited, and together with that company and its former operations manager Christopher Wilson, was fined a total of $93,000 in the Invercargill District Court last year after they each pleaded guilty to a representative charge of ill-treatment of animals.

The Ministry for Primary Industries laid the charges after an investigation into a calf-rearing operation involving up to 1800 animals at an Invercargill farm in 2017.

Of the 1769 calves sent to the farm between August and October that year, 457 died.

The 98 disappearing cattle

The victim and Harrison met in late 2018.

Between 2019 and 2020, Harrison took over the control and responsibility of the farmer’s herd of 98 prime Hereford cattle, which were grazing at a farm dubbed “the quarry” that Harrison was leasing near Kawhia.

In early 2022, Harrison sold eight of the herd to Silver Fern Farms.

The sales of the cattle were unauthorized and the victim was not paid any money. Photo/Getty Images

On May 13, he sold a further 23 through the Morrinsville saleyards and was paid more than $13,000.

He sold a further 25 cattle on June 10 – pocketing more than $15,000 – and on July 2 he sold 30 at an “undervalued price”.

The sales were unauthorized and the victim was not paid any money.

Te Awamutu College Rugby Club coach of the year Mark Harrison with the TWM Tataurangi Award in September this year. Photo / Tanja Allen

A few months later, in October, the farmer asked Harrison about his cattle as he wanted to prepare them for sale.


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However, each time Harrison would come up with an excuse as to why the victim was unable to access them.

The farmer, in his victim impact statement, said he had struggled to manage all of his affairs since the death of his wife in 2019.

“He feels he’s been taken advantage of and he can’t understand why it’s happened,” Judge Marshall said.

He’d previously had a lot of respect for Harrison and his wife but this incident had left him “devastated and hurt and he found it hard to trust people.”

“He’s upset and angry about the lies that you told. If you had just talked to him about it he may have been able to work with you instead of being left with lie after lie.”

The farmer had built the herd of cattle up through “generational livestock” and knows that now, at his age, he will not be able to build another one.


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“That’s the kind of impact your offending has had, Mr Harrison. It has a ripple effect. “It’s not just the victim but the victim’s family,” Judge Marshall told him.

‘Not flush with cash’

Police prosecutor Jessica Ria took issue at the $60,000 reparation figure, labeling it “conservative,” and urged the judge not to issue any discount for remorse given Harrison’s comments in the pre-sentence report that he had only changed his plea to guilty because he’ d run out of money to fight the charges.

Asked about the reparation payment by the judge, Harrison’s counsel Richard Smith said there was “conjecture” around the figure as “there’s no certainty as to what it should be.”

Harrison was not “flush with cash and in fact, quite the opposite,” Smith said, adding that his client would need to pay reparation back to the victim over time.

“As far as remorse, Mr Harrison is not in a good place. He has accepted that this has happened and he is responsible.

“He does have the full support of his family, his parents, wife, and brother are here to support him and will continue to do so throughout the next period of his life.”


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Harrison was otherwise of good character, Smith said.

Judge Marshall told Harrison he was given the victim’s animals on “special terms that you were to comply with.”

“In that offending, you abused your position of trust in a premeditated way by making those separate sales.

“He was vulnerable. He was 82. The amount of loss was considerable and probably conservative at $60,000.”

The judge described Harrison’s forgery offending as a “ham-fisted attempt” to cover up what he’d done.

I have declined to give any credit for remorse.


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“It seems to me that although you have your difficulties with your mental health issues, you have sought to rely on your old reputation that at one time you were a valued member of the community, but now you have failed from that position.”

As Harrison was a first offender, and had the support of his family, Judge Marshall sentenced him to six months’ home detention, rejecting defense submissions he should get a sentence of community detention.

Asked about the result by NZME outside court, the victim said he was pleased to get reparation awarded but hoped it would be paid sooner rather than later.

“Under all the circumstances, if I can get it in not too long, so I can make use of it, I am happy about that. I think they’ve done a good job to get that [reparation]absolutely.”

Belinda Feek is an Open Justice reporter based in Waikato. She has worked at NZME for eight years and been a journalist for 19.


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