A New Zealand man dubbed the “accidental millionaire” or “runaway millionaire” after he fled to China with a small fortune deposited into his account because of a bank error, has been sentenced to nearly five years in prison.
Gas station owner Hui “Leo” Gao, pleaded guilty in a New Zealand court to seven charges that involved stealing $6.7 million and was sentenced to 4 years and 7 months in prison. His former girlfriend and accomplice, 32-year-old Kara Hurring, will serve nine months in home detention, reports the New Zealand Herald.
Gao, 31, was working 16-hour shifts just to keep the doors open at his BP gas station, when he applied for a $100,000 overdraft. Westpac bank mistakenly transferred $10 million ($8.2 million USD) after a clerk entered the decimal point in the wrong place, reports the Rotorua Daily Post.
“I’m f**king rich,” Gao reportedly told Hurring at the time and later told the police he’d won the lottery. The Australian reports the couple told friends they were going on vacation, abandoned their car at Auckland Airport and skipped town.
According to the Herald, Gao siphoned close to $6.8 million from his business account to personal accounts in his name and in his parents’, and transferred more than $347,000 to casino accounts in Macau before fleeing New Zealand. His then-girlfriend, who gave birth to their son while on the run, followed four days later and opened a “player’s account” at the casino with her passport. Later, another $2.2 million was funneled to the same casino, but this time under Gao’s father’s name, Alex Wang.
Gao was arrested in September when he tried to cross from mainland China to Hong Kong. According to the paper, he didn’t oppose being extradited, and was returned to New Zealand in late December, while Hurring was arrested when she re-entered New Zealand last year.
The Herald reports that Gao plead guilty to theft charges in June, and at yesterday’s sentencing, his lawyer, Ron Mansfield, told the court his client could not resist the temptation placed in front of him by human error.
“Your Honor, some say the greatest temptation was faced by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden but these are modern times for a man trying to keep the doors of his small business open, $10 million placed in his bank account was a very great temptation,” he said.
Westpac Bank says it has recovered nearly $3 million, but another $3.7 million remains missing.