In four years, Penny Robyn Cromie drained her grandmother’s account of $250,000. The elderly woman, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, was unaware of the scam carried out by the granddaughter she had raised since birth.
Cromie is six months into a 34-month jail sentence for fraud, but people who know her say jail is not a deterrent, and she’ll get out there and do it again.
During his sentencing in Nelson District Court, Judge David Ruth said Cromie was a money risk.
“I consider you a fraudulent and dishonest person and I believe you pose a high risk to anyone else you enter into a relationship with involving money.”
* Kiwis stole $3.7m in cyber scams, according to Cert NZ
* Student moving to Auckland loses $1,000 to online rental scam
* Hope fades for Tinder scam victim as bank says she can’t get back the $540,000 she lost
This is Cromie’s second prison sentence: in 2003, she was imprisoned for a car import scam.
Anne Lemon, who knew both Cromie and Noeline Ferguson, the grandmother whose money she stole, says the convicted woman would not stop.
“If you can do that to the one person who loved you…they will do it again. She will get out of prison, create another life. She won’t stop.
Lemon knew Cromie’s extended family in Ashburton. They were all part of the close-knit equestrian community, and Cromie’s mother, Stephanie, was a talented rider, Lemon said.
When Stephanie was killed in a riding accident, Ferguson raised Cromie, a small baby at the time.
Cromie was a troubled teenager, and Lemon wasn’t surprised when she heard about the car import scam that landed the then 24-year-old Christchurch-living woman at a sentence of 21 months in prison in 2003.
Cromie had told her customers that she could import cheap damaged cars from Japan and have them repaired and registered in New Zealand.
Eighteen clients lost nearly $380,000, and Cromie pleaded guilty to 22 counts of theft and one forgery, relating to a lawyer’s letter she wrote to assure a client that the transaction was correct.
Police found Cromie used the money to buy furniture, electronics, jewelry, vehicles, cosmetic surgery and breast implants.
Wayne Henderson met Cromie while living in Northland, around 2008. She seemed smart, capable and personable: a good candidate for the position of account manager at his Kerikeri insurance brokerage, he said .
“She was not known to us at all. She came with her CV, we thought she might be suitable.
But Henderson soon discovered his mind wasn’t at work — at least, not his.
“She was preoccupied with working with the horses and all sorts of things. She annoyed the staff because she was always on the internet or TradeMe or on her phone.
Three or four months into his work, Cromie failed the required police check, disqualifying him from the registration requirement for his role.
When Henderson began the process of “exiting” Cromie, she filed a civil suit. Henderson paid around $10,000 in legal fees and a settlement to end the expensive process as quickly as possible.
It’s anyone’s guess to Henderson why Cromie applied for the job knowing she would fall for this hurdle.
Henderson has dealt with a lot of crafty people, he said. But Penny Cromie held on.
“She was smart, beautiful, she could have done anything. She was a decent person on the outside, but quite a sneaky person, there were always things going on in the background.
Cromie’s last offence, which saw her plead guilty to four representative charges of theft, began around a decade ago.
Justice Ruth described a close relationship between Cromie and Noeline Ferguson, the grandmother who raised her.
Ferguson supported her granddaughter financially and took an interest in her businesses, Ruth said.
In 2011, when Ferguson suffered from early Alzheimer’s disease, Cromie obtained joint power of attorney over his affairs with a co-signer, Ms. Robb, Ferguson’s daughter and Cromie’s aunt.
By the end of 2013, Ferguson’s condition had deteriorated and she was unable to make financial decisions. This November, unbeknownst to his aunt, Cromie has made himself the sole signatory of his grandmother’s account.
When Ferguson moved into a nursing home a few days later, Robb agreed that Cromie would handle the nursing home payments, on the condition that she be consulted on any further withdrawals.
In February 2017, Robb received an invoice from the nursing home for $63,000 in unpaid bills. When she went to the bank, she discovered many withdrawals from her mother’s accounts.
Cromie had transferred thousands of dollars into his personal and business accounts and to pay his expenses. She had also withdrawn an $820,000 term deposit, but some of the funds were recovered.
In all, Cromie had taken about $250,000 of his grandmother’s money, the judge said.
Ferguson died in March 2018, months after police began investigating Cromie.
Initially, Cromie promised to pay back $297,000. However, at the time of sentencing some four years later, she had not paid “a penny”, Judge Ruth said.
Judge Ruth called the offense “pure and simple theft…from a person who is not in a position to resist”, telling Cromie that she was “essentially a dishonest person, and you will steal and cheat according to your needs”.
Crown prosecutor Jeremy Cameron called the offense ‘premeditated’, and Cromie’s offer to repay the funds over 30 years ‘hollow and worthless’, given that she had no silver.
The judge noted that in a pre-sentence report, Cromie declined to review the police summary of facts “…because you said you didn’t want to relive the trauma this situation caused you.”
According to a pre-sentence report, Cromie said she learned a lesson: documenting the funds her grandmother freely gave her.
“It’s total nonsense,” the judge told Cromie. “Your grandmother was not able to… give consent on a legal basis to what you were doing.”
He believed Cromie was at risk of reoffending.
“It was a direct theft from you to someone who couldn’t possibly resist or even know what you were doing.”
Public records show that Cromie was involved in several business ventures, including at least three photo framing ventures.
In 2019, the Inland Revenue was listed as a plaintiff in a High Court petition to wind up Fine Arts and Framing, the Cromie company funded with her grandmother’s money. The liquidator’s report revealed that the company owed $126,000 to its creditors.
The other two businesses related to Cromie’s framing, Fine Arts and Fine Arts Fit Out, are still in operation.
On the Fine Arts website Fit Out, a bio riddled with misspellings describes Cromie as a “Dirty Extraodinaire [sic] and extreme multi-tasking chef.
“When she’s not buried finding art to complement the latest trends or traveling the country visiting clients, she trains in the sandbox with her dressage horse.”
Projects pictured on the company’s website include a retirement village.
Cromie declined an interview request.
Things contacted a number of family members, former friends, associates and acquaintances of Cromie.
Most said they were too intimidated by Cromie to talk.
“Please keep my name out,” one said.
“She looks good, and she’s a very smart operator,” said another. “She would lay the groundwork in case something came out. She plans years ahead.
“There’s just no consciousness there, that part of her brain isn’t there… The destruction she caused…”
Cromie also had his defenders. One, who asked not to be named, said the car import scam had been a “stupid mistake when she was a child”. They also challenged the current sentence, arguing that Ferguson did not have Alzheimer’s disease and knew what she was doing.
Former family friend Anne Lemon said Cromie still had friends in the “horse world”.
“A lot of people think she’s a goddess, a superstar. But she’s not a superstar, she’s a criminal.
Unlike others contacted by Things, Lemon said she was not afraid of Cromie. Mostly, she just felt disgust, she said.
“[Ferguson] was an amazing grandmother,” Lemon said. “They were very well respected people at Ashburton, trotting trainers, lovely, wonderful people.
“For Penny, doing this is like stealing from her mother.”