Almost $30k raised for climbing safety through Kimi Worrell Foundation stolen by ex-boyfriend Vibesbullet

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Akshay Ogra stole more than $29,000 from the Kimi Worrell Foundation set up to make rock climbing safer after Worrell died from a fall at Castle Rock in 2018. Photo / Facebook

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Akshay Ogra went to great lengths to hide his dishonesty.

He told other trustees of the Kimi Worrell Foundation his computer had been hacked and someone had stolen $29,140 raised in her name to improve rock climbing safety in New Zealand.

But that someone was Ogra. Almost a year to the day after American scientist Lauren Kimiyo Worrell fell to her death in August 2018 at Castle Rock near Whitianga, Ogra transferred the bulk of the money, $28,040, out of the account he helped set up. Then he kept quiet.

Ogra and Worrell were romantically involved before she died. Their split was acrimonious according to her new partner Richard Graham, who was with the 28-year-old when she fell 120m.

Coroner Mike Robb ruled Worrell’s death was preventable had she used her own equipment and not relied on a rope that was already attached to the rock.

The “heavily weathered” fixed nylon webbing Worrell clipped herself to snapped.

Graham says a replacement would have cost about $5, so Worrell’s grieving friends and family set up a Givealittle page to raise money to replace existing fixed lines and hardware at rock climbing locations around the country.

Originally called the Kimi Worrell Legacy Fund, the name changed to the Kimi Worrell Foundation after it was incorporated as a charity on September 2, 2018.

Thousands were donated through Givealittle by friends, strangers and members of the rock climbing community.

But Graham says that from the outset Ogra took control.

Despite not having spoken to Worrell since they split up several months earlier, Ogra inserted himself back into the fold, collecting her parents from the airport when they arrived from the US and attending a viewing of Worrell’s body with close friends and family.

Kimi Worrell minutes before she fell to her death. The US scientist had just completed her Master's Degree in Energy with First Class Honours at the University of Auckland. Photo / Supplied
Kimi Worrell minutes before she fell to her death. The US scientist had just completed her Master’s Degree in Energy with First Class Honours at the University of Auckland. Photo / Supplied

He spoke at her memorial service and later collected Worrell’s Master’s degree on her behalf.

“She never wanted to see him again and when she passed he was suddenly back in the picture and wanted to make amends,” Graham tells Open Justice.

When the fund was established, Ogra was one of three trustees who had access to the Kiwibank account.

There were eight trustees, including Graham and Worrell’s parents, but because they did not have signing rights on the account they were reliant on Ogra and two of Worrell’s friends to oversee the money.

It meant the other trustees couldn’t advertise and administer the fund, which effectively ground to a halt.

When Worrell’s stepfather told Graham the money had disappeared, the shocked 30-year-old contacted another trustee who had signing rights and was told Ogra’s computer had been hacked, the money was stolen and Kiwibank had launched an investigation.

Graham repeatedly messaged Ogra but there was radio silence.

How the deception unfolded

A police summary states that Ogra logged into the Kiwibank account through internet banking on August 26, 2019, and transferred $23,040.91 into a Westpac account and $5000 into an ANZ account.

On February 21, 2020, Ogra transferred $600 from the foundation to his personal ASB account.

Then on April 18 the same year, in the middle of the first nationwide lockdown, he made two final payments from the Kiwibank account to the same ASB account, of $450 and $50.

Ogra marked the last three transfers as “Pay IRD” in the transaction notes but in February 2021 the foundation was deregistered by Charities Services for failing to file annual returns.

On May 1, 2020, the trust secretary logged in to find the foundation account had been cleaned out.

Over the next four months, she asked Ogra to contact Kiwibank to query what had happened to the missing money.

Police said Ogra provided false updates to the secretary, advising that he had contacted Kiwibank and the money could be recoverable through insurance.

In September that year, he forwarded her a forged PDF copy of a Kiwibank email.

“The email contained a fabricated investigation of the missing funds and suggested that the defendant’s Kiwibank account login details had been compromised,” the police summary read.

“The email further indicated that the money was not traceable or recoverable due to the funds being transferred to an overseas account.”

The secretary thought the email was genuine. Ogra then notified Worrell’s stepfather who alerted the other trustees.

On December 7, 2020, the trust treasurer contacted Kiwibank and discovered there was no investigation.

Instead, Kiwibank staff told her the funds had been transferred to New Zealand bank accounts, as opposed to overseas accounts.

Richard Graham went to the police when it was discovered money was missing from a fund set up in his late girlfriend Kimi Worrell's memory to improve mountain climbing safety. Photo / Supplied
Richard Graham went to the police when it was discovered money was missing from a fund set up in his late girlfriend Kimi Worrell’s memory to improve mountain climbing safety. Photo / Supplied

Later that month Graham reported the theft to police who found the $23,040 was a payment to loan company Finance Now linked to Ogra’s account.

Ogra had been having trouble repaying the loan.

The $5000 was transferred to Ogra’s account, which belonged to his company Techline Solutions.

Of the $5000, Ogra used $4063 to reimburse his parents’ account for plane tickets he’d bought in July 2019 using their credit card.

Four days after he stole the money from his dead ex-girlfriend’s legacy fund, Ogra flew to Qatar with another girlfriend.

The 28-year-old was charged with theft by a person in a special relationship, accessing a computer for dishonest purposes and using a forged document.

He pleaded guilty and sought a discharge without conviction. Ogra’s family sought name suppression for themselves which would extend to him by default, but police – on behalf of the victims, and Open Justice opposed it.

Day of reckoning

Judge Tini Clark declined permanent name suppression and to discharge Ogra without conviction.

Ogra’s lawyer Sam Lowry told the Manukau District Court at his client’s sentencing this month, that the young man was remorseful for his actions and acknowledged his offending was “unacceptable on every level”.

“He betrayed his fellow trustees, the donors to the foundation, and most importantly the memory of the deceased, his friend Ms Worrell,” Lowry said.

“He is deeply sorry for what he did. He does not seek to minimise the offending and this is a deeply humbling day for him and his family.”

Ogra was supported in court by his mother as Lowry read an email from his client apologising to Worrell’s stepfather and the other trustees.

“I betrayed your trust and the integrity of the foundation and you have every right to feel anger and pain,” Ogra wrote.

“Worst of all my actions were disrespectful to Kimi and her memory. I’m truly sorry for putting you all in such a difficult position in trying to cover it up.

“I know I must take responsibility for my actions and I will return the money to the trust. I know this won’t undo the damage I have caused but I hope it can at least start to make amends and make the trust whole again.

“I don’t expect your forgiveness but please know that I am incredibly remorseful about what I did, and how that affected each and every one of you.”

However, Judge Clark noted Lowry had not sought permission from Worrell’s stepdad to include as evidence in his submissions the apology email exchange, written between May and August this year after Ogra pleaded guilty.

“I was just interested firstly about the timing of the emails, and then the proffering of those same emails, without notice to the recipient, to the court as a mitigating factor,” she said.

The email exchange showed Worrell’s stepfather took a different view of matters than Graham who, together with another trustee, had declined a restorative justice meeting with Ogra.

Judge Clark queried what the stolen money was used for and Lowry confirmed it was for payments to a $20,000 personal loan that Ogra took out to cover living costs and pay off credit cards.

The judge said Ogra appeared to have over-extended himself.

Lowry said a conviction would affect Ogra’s IT employment opportunities but Judge Clark pointed out Ogra had used his skills to commit the offences.

“What do you say about an employer’s right to know, particularly in an industry which is high trust, that someone has actually used those good skills for dishonest purpose?”

Lowry said an employer’s right to know must be balanced against giving Ogra another chance.

Kimi Worrell moments before she died when she clipped onto permanent rope in the Coromandel that snapped. Almost $30,000 raised for mountain safety in her name was stolen by her ex-boyfriend. Photo / Supplied
Kimi Worrell moments before she died when she clipped onto permanent rope in the Coromandel that snapped. Almost $30,000 raised for mountain safety in her name was stolen by her ex-boyfriend. Photo / Supplied

But Judge Clark convicted Ogra on the charges. She said the offending was serious and the effect of his behaviour was that it had sullied the good intentions of Worrell’s friends.

“This money was effectively crowd-funding. This was money that members of the public who may or may not have known Ms Worrell, had freely given out of the goodness of their own hearts.”

The money ought to have been treated with more respect and the judge said Ogra’s offending would now be forever linked with the memory of Worrell.

The extent of harm, breach of trust, prolonged and ongoing offending, and premeditation all counted against him.

Police sought reparation for the full amount and Judge Clark said Ogra had paid it back using money borrowed from his parents.

She sentenced Ogra to 12 months’ supervision and three months’ community detention.

Questioning his remorse

Worrell was a US citizen living in Auckland and had not long completed her Master of Energy with First Class Honours at the University of Auckland.

She achieved an A+ on her thesis New Directions for Sustainable Transport Policy in Auckland, an area in which she intended working.

Worrell had about three years’ climbing experience in New Zealand and the US when she fell. She had previously climbed Castle Rock with Graham.

He could only watch in horror as he saw her begin her climb then fall over the edge and out of view.

Graham believes Ogra manipulated Worrell’s grief-stricken loved ones to gain the confidence of her inner circle. He also questions Ogra’s remorse.

“This guy had eight months in between the money being taken and [the secretary] discovering the funds were missing … to grow a bit of a conscience and return it.”

Graham’s other concern was for the fund’s intended use.

“Kimi was not the first person to pass away in an accident of this nature and she’s probably not the last. How many people could her legacy fund have helped in between then and now?”

The fund is now being administered by the Aotearoa Climbing Access Trust. ,

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