But she was also causing havoc in Northland; a farm worker is kicking himself for entrusting his inheritance to a new neighbour whose mini-skirts and Mercedes Benz turned heads in the back blocks of Kaiwaka.
Phil Taylor reports on the disastrous dealings of Jing Xia.
“I’m broke-arsed, mate. Excuse the term, but that’s the way it is,” says farm worker Pete “Cowboy” Hammon of his parlous financial state.
An inheritance from his late parents – the only solid chunk of money he has ever had – is apparently gone. Last month, his bank account was $1.98 in the red.
He’s been to a lawyer and made a complaint of “obtaining by deception” to police but says he holds no great hope of getting his money back.
“It is not just the money,” says Hammon. “Everyone knows what’s gone down and it’s just a bloody joke. I just feel like an absolute dick.”
He begins his story like this: “A lady made me an offer and she was my friend.”
The woman was Jing Xia, who became friends with Hammon after she bought a house on the same dirt road, near Kaiwaka, where he lives in what was a woolshed. Xia is thought to have been living between Auckland and Kaiwaka.
“She was very friendly, nice, and open, I would have said back then.”
Xia planned to buy a separate farm and wanted Hammon to manage it.
Hammon hails from nearby Port Albert, the son of a Maori mother and Pakeha gumdiggers and horsemen. They are a family of farm workers, never farm owners.
Xia’s offer appealed as his chance to own something.
The sale price was $1.2 million.
“The deal,” says Hammon, “was that I would help her with the deposit but I would have a list of farm equipment and a percentage of cattle to cover my $170,000.”
Hammon gave the money to Xia, via lawyers.
The vendor, Lindsey Saunders, confirms that he ended up with a deposit of $60,000 – half the amount originally agreed – and that Xia’s promises to pay the rest were never followed through.
Hammon says Xia also repeatedly told him money was coming. “That didn’t happen. She gave me another date and that didn’t happen … I’ve had five different stories since [February] when I drew the money out and gave it to her.”
The Weekend Herald’s inquiries indicate that Xia transferred most of the remaining $110,000 she received from Hammon to members of her family. Her parents have returned to China; her brother is here on a student visa.
Xia, whose background is in the beauty industry, made for an unusual presence on dusty Nukuroa Rd, driving a Mercedes Benz and wearing what Hammon describes as “thousand-dollar clothes”.
It was an image of glamour and wealth, but there is a different story that involves bankruptcy, a history of bad deals and gang members.
Xia came to the attention of the Weekend Herald during inquiries into a tip that Mongrel Mob members who had moved into upmarket Summerfield Villas In Grey Lynn were terrifying residents in the housing precinct where homes sell for more than $1 million.
Several residents said police had been called because of the behaviour of gang members.
A Mongrel Mob member was the tenant of one of three units owned by Xia in the gated housing precinct that features an outdoor pool fringed with palm trees.
The background is a bitter dispute between Xia, 37, and her estranged husband, Yu Hao, 34. Each blamed the other for the arrival of the gang member.
Their dispute involves multiple properties owned in the wife’s name, and a claim by the husband to have provided $4.1 million.
The Mongrel Mob member moved into the apartment after Hao tried to sell it earlier this year.
Last month, Xia told the Weekend Herald her husband’s claim to have given her millions of dollars was “not true”, and she denied being responsible for the gang member moving in. She referred further questions to her lawyer.
Interviewed on the same day, the Mongrel Mob member told the Weekend Herald he knows Xia and had a drink with her the previous evening.
The alleged behaviour of gang members wasn’t the only trouble linked to Xia and the upmarket housing precinct. Last November, Xia’s brother, Shilei Xia, 28, crashed her black Mercedes SUV – one of two Mercedes she bought – at 5.45am through a fence and into the side of a building at the Auckland Buddhist Centre, a short distance away.
Shilei was found to have a blood alcohol reading four times the legal limit. He was convicted of driving with excess blood alcohol content and with careless driving, fined $900, ordered to pay $500 reparation and disqualified for nine months, after which a zero-alcohol licence was to apply.
According to records seen by the Herald, Xia paid $24,500 of Hammon’s money to her brother in February and March this year.
Several people who became involved with Xia say they got the impression she was wealthy.
“She was really friendly,” says Suki Su, who filed bankruptcy proceedings against her. She met Xia in 2011 at a beauty salon in Dominion Rd where Xia was an employee and Su was a customer. ”She was like your best friend straight away.”
Xia insisted on paying each time they went to restaurants, says Su. “It was like she was showing me something. She told me that she had a big house in China and that her family is rich. I didn’t care. I own a house in New Zealand, I’m rich too.”
Later they went in together to buy a beauty salon as equal owners. Su says she paid Xia more than $100,000 to make the arrangements before going to China to marry and give birth to her first child.
On her return, she found ownership of the company was solely in Xia’s name. When requests to transfer Su’s share of the company into her name were ignored, Su went to court, resulting in Xia being adjudicated bankrupt in October 2014, owing Su $143,000.
Almost two years later, in September 2016, the High Court annulled the bankruptcy after Xia paid Su.
Su said she has no idea where Xia got the money to pay her as they haven’t spoken since they fell out. “It really hurt. It was a hard time in my life.”
Hao told the Weekend Herald he was unaware Xia was an undischarged bankrupt when they married in the Auckland registry office in April 2016, having met the previous year through a dating site.
He suspects his money was used by Xia to clear her bankruptcy debts and to set up companies and buy property.
Hao claims to have made multiple transfers beginning the month after they married and ending about two years later in June 2018 when he became concerned he had no legal ownership of any property and that the properties were heavily mortgaged.
After they married, he’d returned to work in Beijing in IT. His concerns arose when he moved to New Zealand to join Xia in February last year.
The millions of dollars was, he says, made up of his savings, profit from selling a Beijing apartment and borrowings from friends.
He too says he was under the impression Xia’s family was wealthy and believed they were both putting money in to set up their life together in New Zealand.
Checks he’s done in China since the relationship soured had not found any property owned by Xia’s family.
Auckland police have told him it is a civil matter. He says he can’t afford a lawyer and suspects little if anything will be left after mortgages (mostly to second-tier lenders) are paid.
Xia’s farmhouse, up the road from Hammon, was recently sold by one of those lenders, and another, Cressida Capital, appointed receivers in May to all of Xia’s present and future property under a “General Security Agreement”.
Hao says he is upset New Zealand authorities say they can’t act.
Weekend Herald inquiries suggest Xia had little money in the years after she arrived in New Zealand as a student in about 2003.
Her partner from that time, who asked not to be named, says they met at an English language school. He never met her family but says she wasn’t wealthy.
Both worked part-time and money was tight, he says, as reflected in a 2008 Tenancy Tribunal ruling against them for rent arrears and other costs.
He was a New Zealand resident and Xia gained permanent residency as his partner. They later separated.
Xia’s finances appear not to have improved greatly in the following years. In May 2014 the Tenancy Tribunal terminated her tenancy and ordered her to pay rent arrears and a water bill totallying $3400.
“Her rent was always in arrears and her cheques bounced,” the landlord told the Herald . “There was always a story; there was money coming from overseas …”
Xia appears to have come into money around the time Yu Hao claims to have started transferring large sums from Beijing.
Five months after they married, Xia’s bankruptcy was annulled as a result of Xia paying her debt to Su.
In that month, September 2016, Xia began a spending spree, setting up beauty companies, buying three apartments in Summerfield Villas, a four-hectare block of farmland on Nukuroa Rd (about $250,000) and a farmhouse ($545,000) on the same road.
Hao says she also bought an $84,000 Mercedes Benz SUV and a second Mercedes for $37,000.
There were also aborted property deals besides the Saunders’ farm.
Xia lost her deposit after failing to complete a deal to buy another Summerfield apartment and was sued by the vendor, Wendy Dobson, for losses incurred when the property was later sold.
The court has ruled in Dobson’s favour and the amount she is owed is being finalised.
That sale process stretched out for about 13 months before Dobson cancelled the unconditional contract.
“She said her dad had a lot of money,” says Dobson. Then she claimed she had a sister who owned a hotel in Queenstown who would buy the apartment.
“Well, I don’t believe she has a sister. It caused me so much stress. It actually made me very sick.”
Xia forfeited a deposit when she failed to complete a deal to buy a lifestyle property – also on Nukuroa Rd in Northland – from the Farr family.
“By the way she was talking, she wanted to buy up all the land she could,” says Andrew Farr. “She wanted a million square metres – a hundred-hectare block.
“She mucked us around … We had every promise under the sun. In the end we said ‘stuff it’.”
Farr is Pete Hammon’s main employer. Urging Hammon to be cautious fell on deaf ears but, says Farr, Xia was “greasing him up”, bringing him alcohol and when Hammon’s inheritance came off term deposit, she drove him to the bank.
Earlier this month, Hammon, 57, gave the Weekend Herald a tour of the woolshed where he lives with his geese and chooks and cats and working dogs, including Weasel, “my main bitch”, who is insured for $2000.
Several years ago, he’d put up some gib and moved in. There’s a bed, a couch, a fridge, a long-drop toilet and a sign that says, “No rest for the wicked”.
He’d banked on his arrangement with Xia leaving him with something tangible to pass on. “I have a son and a daughter and two grandkids. What are they gonna have 10, 20 years down the track? They are going to have nothing.”
Lindsey Saunders says he knows the deposit he holds came from Hammon. He’s waiting to see what happens as Xia was in touch a month ago. “She’s saying she’s coming to see Pete, that she is going to pay him back.”
Farr has a succinct response to that news. “It’s all bulls***.”
What happened next
Jing Xia has declined to answer further questions from the Weekend Herald , instead referring inquiries to her lawyer. The Herald emailed her lawyer questions regarding what Xia had done with Pete Hammon’s money, whether she still intended to buy the farm and, if so, how she would fund it?
Despite extending the deadline at the lawyer’s request, no response was received.
However, within an hour of our reporter contacting the lawyer, the vendor of the farm, Lindsey Saunders, told the Herald that Xia had phoned “out of the blue”. She had told him she would visit him and Hammon that weekend, claimed that money was coming and asked that he “not talk to the newspapers”.
Jing Xia in New Zealand
• 2003: Arrives on a student visa to study English.
• August, 2008: Tenancy Tribunal order against her and partner of the time for unpaid rent.
• 2009: Gains permanent residency as partner of NZ resident, they subsequently separate.
• May, 2014: Tenancy Tribunal terminates her tenancy and orders her to pay unpaid rent.
• October, 2014: Adjudicated bankrupt.
• Summer 2015/2016: Meets Yu Hao on dating website.
• April, 2016: Marries Hao in Auckland registry office.
• May, 2016 – June, 2018: Hao claims he transfers total of $4.1 million to Xia and her family.
• September, 2016: Bankruptcy annulled after creditor paid, four hectare Northland farm block bought in mother’s name.
• November, 2016 – May 2018: Buys second rural Northland property, three Grey Lynn apartments and two Mercedes Benz cars.
• During 2018: Sponsors Hao’s residency application.
• November 2018: Brother crashes Mercedes Benz into Auckland Buddhist Centre in Grey Lynn.
• April, 2019: Real estate agency withdraws one of Grey Lynn apartments from sale due to presence of gang members.
• May, 2019: Finance company Cressida Capital One Ltd appoints receivers to her “present and after-acquired personal property” under a General Security Agreement.
• June, 2019: Gang member moves out, tells Herald he knows Xia.
How Pete “Cowboy” Hammon’s farm dream when wrong
• December 2018: Jing Xia agrees to buy the Saunders’ farm for $1.1 million.
• February 2019: Pete Hammon transfers $170,000 to Xia who pays $120,000 deposit to vendor and $50,000 to her brother and one other.
• March 2019: At Xia’s request, vendor pays back half of deposit. Xia transfers this money to family members.
• Result: Of the $170,000 paid by Hammon, the farm vendor holds $60,000 as deposit, while most of the balance was paid by Xia to family members.