Northland health workers say they're thousands of dollars out of pocket after being caught in employment scam

Northland health workers say they are thousands of dollars out of pocket after being caught in what they are calling an employment scam.

The workers left their jobs at clinics across Northland to take up roles at a new rehabilitation clinic for prisoners on Māori land being planned by convicted fraudster Aperahama Anihana.

Mr Anihana, who has twice been jailed for fraud, was only 18 months out of prison when he started up a venture which saw him hire a team of at least eight health professionals.

Kerry Hirini, one of the complainants, left her old job to become a social worker for the centre on a $65,000 salary.

Ms Hirini applied for the job through Seek and was later interviewed at a hotel in Kerikeri.

"It was quite a formal interview and it was in a really expensive hotel so it all looked really legit," Ms Hirini said.

Another complainant, Karen Kaka, resigned from her administration job to become a support worker.

"When I saw this job, I thought, 'Yep, that's me' and I put my hand up. That's why I went for it - I believed in the kaupapa," Ms Kaka said.

"It was advertised on Jora and it was actually advertised by an HR company an employment agency and an employment agency in Australia."

Contracts obtained by 1 NEWS show employers were promised cars and high salaries.

Mr Anihana also recruited a communications manager who sent out a press release saying he was building up to 80 chalets and homes and that produce grown on the land would support local communities when building started this month.

Ms Kaka said funding was coming through "a private investor, a philanthropist".

"I think he said at the time two of them but no government funding so we were free to run the business as we saw fit."

Workers started their jobs on June 11, where they worked for two-and-a-half weeks before they were told they were not going to be paid for their services.

"On 29th of June, we had a hui and the founder of the business actually told us there was no money.

"Some people got really, really upset 'cause they'd left really good jobs."

Staff were employed by Te Aranga Mai, but the day they started working, another company owned by Mr Anihana - Māori Prison Support Services - was put into liquidation.

However, liquidator Gary Whimp says the company "was never solvent".

"There are a number of creditors coming forward from Northland, Auckland and even Australia. It looks like, at this stage, tens of thousands of dollars' worth of debt and no hope of paying it back," Mr Whimp said.

Mr Anihana claims the centre has nothing to do with the liquidated company, but staffers believe the money was spent in order to impress them.

"He's been busy. Most of it is to hire people in the Keirkeri region with conferences in Kerikeri, air travel from Auckland to Whangarei, and then Kerikeri with big four wheel drives available to him once on the ground."

Mr Anihana was not available to appear on camera this week but denied claims the centre was a scam, saying the rehabilitation centre is on hold because private investors - who he will not identify - have pulled out and the land he was promised has fallen through.

Mr Anihana apologised to those affected.

"I had to explain to my whānau, so it was quite embarrassing, you know? My father flew up from Gisborne for the powhiri," Ms Hirini said.

The health professionals are now trying to set up their own rehabilitation centre while recovering the money owed to them.

The workers left their jobs at clinics across Northland to take up roles at a new rehabilitation clinic being planned by a convicted fraudster. Source: 1 NEWS