Rugby league: Former New Zealand Warriors NRL star Elijah Taylor reveals full story after his manager misappropriated $400,000December 27, 2020
The first emotion for Elijah Taylor was disbelief. That was swiftly followed by shock.
The former Warriors star — and 11-test Kiwi — was sitting in the Penrith branch of Westpac bank, when the cold, unbelievable reality began to dawn.
Accompanied by his wife, they stared again at the computer screen that displayed transactions from his personal account.
“I still didn’t believe it,” Taylor told the Herald. “How could it be possible? How could someone do this — someone who was like my father. I trusted him so much. I trusted him more than anyone else in my life.”
The banker presented printouts going back, year by year, with all kinds of strange transactions.
“When you see trips to Fiji on your bank statement you are like…. ‘what? I’ve never been to Fiji’,” said Taylor.
Last month a court found Taylor’s manager, Christchurch-based Ian Miles, had misappropriated almost $400,000 from the Warriors, Panthers and Tigers forward, over a four-year period, which Miles still denies.
Evidence showed the money was splurged on overseas holidays, gifts for his wife, motorcycles, flash hotels, restaurants, clothing and furniture.
What made it worse was that their association went far beyond a typical manager-athlete relationship. Miles had been a mentor for Taylor since he was a teenager.
“He even came on our honeymoon,” says Taylor. “We were so close. I trusted him more than anyone, built from a long relationship.
“I never had much growing up. I wasn’t educated in any of this. A lot of players see their manager as a father figure because there is no one [else] they can turn to for financial advice. I relied on Ian for that. He had worked with Olympic athletes, plenty of sportspeople. I thought it was a no-brainer.”
Taylor met Miles at the Warriors, when he was brought in to do mental skills coaching.
“Ian would always give me his opinion and advice,” says Taylor. “He was very kind and I felt like he genuinely cared about helping me.”
After leading the Warriors to the Under-20s premiership in 2010, Taylor graduated to the NRL team, scoring a try in the 2011 grand final against Manly.
During that season Taylor turned down a substantial new contract — against the advice of his (then) agent Stan Martin and his father — as Miles convinced him he was worth more.
The pair had discussed Miles becoming an accredited player agent and in late 2011 Taylor formally split with Martin, conveyed via an email from Miles.
“I liked Stan and I thought he had done a good job for me, but I was totally listening to Ian at this stage,” says Taylor.
Taylor signed an athlete and management contract with Miles, as well as a standard NRL management contract.
Taylor’s career was on the up; he had toured with the Kiwis and was a Warriors regular. In April 2012, Miles suggested Taylor open two BNZ bank accounts and the manager was given access to both. The business account would be used to pay for expenses that Miles incurred on his client’s behalf.
“I assumed that this was normal for players and agents. I now know it is not,” said Taylor.
Miles’ profound influence over Taylor was highlighted when his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2012. The disease was aggressive, and by August Ron Taylor had little time left.
As the family maintained a bedside vigil in hospital Taylor was due to fly to Townsville for a Warriors game, then join Miles in Sydney for a meeting with Panthers coach Ivan Cleary.
“Simon [Mannering] told me not to go, [coach] Bluey McClennan, [chief executive] Wayne Scurrah said ‘stay home’. My family didn’t want me to go,” said Taylor. “The doctors said he only had another 24 to 48 hours. I knew if I flew to Townsville, I wouldn’t see Dad alive again.”
Taylor didn’t want to make the trip but eventually relented.
“Ian insisted I should, saying that’s what Charles Upham would have done,” claimed Taylor. “I took Ian’s advice over everyone.”
His father died while Taylor was on the way to Townsville.
In March 2013 Taylor agreed a lucrative three-year deal with Penrith, negotiated by Miles.
Six months later, Taylor met Miles at Westpac Bank in Penrith, ahead of his relocation. Personal and professional accounts were opened, with Miles given full access. Miles also arranged for a duplicate Earth Black credit card, with same number as the one given to Taylor.
“Everything was just laid out there for me to sign,” said Taylor. “Ian would just say, sign this one, sign that one. I gave him access so he could manage future investments.”
Around that time Taylor received $19,000 for the Kiwis World Cup campaign. According to court documents, Miles agreed to put it in a term deposit for Taylor, but instead spent $8000 on a motorbike and transferred another $6000 to himself.
Once they moved to Sydney the Taylors agreed a strict monthly budget, as they saved for a house. They stuck to it, but there was friction. During their frequent catch-ups Miles allegedly kept warning Taylor about his wife’s errant credit card spending, supposedly up to $6000 or $7000 a month. His wife insisted she wasn’t spending anything like that.
“I objected to the accusations,” said Poko Matapo-Taylor. “I was going to move back to Rarotonga.”
Early in the 2016 season Taylor moved from the Panthers to the Tigers. When Taylor signed the contract, which was a significant downgrade, Miles was on holiday in Fiji, paid for with the Earth Black credit card.
By the end of 2016 Taylor’s wife was increasingly suspicious and managed to redirect the bank statements from Christchurch to Sydney. There was some evidence that Miles was transferring money out, though Taylor remained unconvinced.
“I basically ignored what Poko was telling me,” said Taylor. “I didn’t even entertain the thought that he would be doing anything suspicious. I just assumed that wherever he was putting the money, it would be for my benefit.”
But grim reality came with a bang on December 27, 2016. At his wife’s insistence, the Taylors met their personal banker at Westpac. Across five hours, they began to realise the extent of Miles’ misappropriation.
“I couldn’t believe what I was reading,” said Taylor. “All the payments to “The Zone” [Miles’ company] and all of the transactions on the Earth Black credit card that I knew Poko hadn’t made. There were hundreds of thousands of dollars gone.”
There were 937 unauthorised transactions via the Westpac accounts, totalling more than A$340,000 ($360,000) on holidays, expensive jewellery, gifts, flash hotels and motorcycles. According to court documents, funds were also transferred to Miles’ wife and used to repay a mortgage on property owned by a trust.
Miles was cut off from the accounts.
“He texted me straight away, saying ‘have you closed the cards?'” recalls Taylor. “I didn’t reply to it and I’ve never heard from him ever again — after texting him nearly every day, talking to him every second day for the previous six years. That was the most telling bit.”
The Taylors considered police charges, but dropped the idea after Miles, through his lawyers, agreed to meet in Christchurch in April 2017.
“His lawyers said both contracts I had signed with Ian stand, plus he was entitled to 50 per cent of all travel expenses,” claimed Taylor, who sat in disbelief as Miles denied any wrongdoing. “It was all over in 20 minutes.”
That meeting came during a harrowing time for the Taylors, as their daughter was in hospital for a fortnight with a life-threatening illness.
There were numerous delays over the next few years, as Miles cited various health problems. He turned down the offer to repay the money in small instalments and the suggestion of mediation.
A decision to engage a lawyer — after first insisting he would defend himself — led to another lengthy delay.
The case was finally heard on November 12.
Miles had declared bankruptcy two weeks earlier and didn’t defend the case.
In the New Zealand High Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue found that Miles breached his NRL contract with Taylor in numerous ways.
She said Miles would have been entitled to around $60,000 for his services — nowhere near the amount taken — but the numerous breaches meant that contract was declared null and void anyway.
She determined Miles had used undue influence to strike an unconscionable bargain and had abused Taylor’s trust “again and again”, also trying to turn Taylor against his wife.
As well as $25,000 in general damages and court costs of $28,750, the sums of A$340,112 and $17,909 were also awarded to the plaintiff, though Taylor holds little hope of receiving the money.
“You look at the figure you are owed and you are not getting a cent of it,” says Taylor. “Someone takes this much money, and he can walk away like nothing happened.
“That doesn’t make sense; doesn’t seem like justice.
“I don’t want this happening to any other young boy in New Zealand, to fall into this trap.
“You can’t think about it too much because it gets you down.”
Miles provided a statement when contacted by the Herald. Despite the overwhelming evidence, he still denies misappropriating funds from Taylor. Miles said he has suffered several health issues over the last four years and is now in therapy. Miles claimed he abandoned his defence on the advice of two doctors and a therapist.
Taylor, who has played 186 NRL games, admits to a weight off his shoulders, relieved to be proven right.
“It wasn’t so much anger, more disbelief,” says Taylor. “I felt let down, used, discouraged after you trust someone so much. As soon as my Dad died, he was the one I always turned to.
“It has made me not trust people.
“It makes me sceptical about just about everything.”
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