The former principal of an Auckland-based private school has been sentenced to five-and-a-half years’ imprisonment for the sexual abuse of a young student who he called a liar at trial but - in an unusual reversal - later admitted to having victimised.

Photo: Jason Oxenham

Joseph Jacob Moncarz, known as “Joey” to students at the Deep Green Bush School in Clevedon, rural South Auckland, returned to Manukau District Court today after spending more than seven months in jail awaiting the sentencing.

The delay was partly due to the 51-year-old’s admission of wrongdoing, which didn’t come until after jurors found him guilty in December of seven charges involving the abuse of a single student under the age of 12. During today’s hearing, he sought a lesser sentence due to the remorse that his lawyer argued was part and parcel with his late admission of guilt.

“That is not something we see often,” David Dickinson said of his client’s reversal, acknowledging that sentence discounts for remorse are usually only associated with guilty pleas but suggesting his client’s “full and frank” disclosure should perhaps serve as an exception to the rule.

Crown prosecutor Luke Radich disagreed, arguing that the defendant’s belated honesty may serve him well at future parole hearings but shouldn’t count as remorse when Moncarz was willing to put the child through the trauma of a trial in which it was repeatedly suggested she was lying.

Radich also pointed to a letter the defendant wrote to the judge and statements he said to a pre-sentence report writer that the prosecutor characterised as “victim blaming” even after his admission of guilt.

Judge Nick Webby agreed with the Crown, declining a discount for Moncarz’s “a little too late” remorse and adding that he, too, noted “an element of victim blaming that is troubling”.

The Deep Green Bush School, which Moncarz helped establish and once promoted through extensive media interviews in New Zealand and abroad, is no longer in operation. In addition to the school’s principal, the defendant served as the lead teacher.

During his trial, prosecutors relied heavily on the testimony of a former friend of Moncarz’s: a parent volunteer at the school who said the principal admitted the crimes to her just days after the child’s outcry. He said he touched the girl and had been aroused by it, the witness said.

“You might go to jail, Joey,” the woman recalled telling Moncarz, prompting him to reply that he was a “white male first-time offender” followed by a joke about her bringing him chocolate and cigarettes in prison for him to trade.

Moncarz would later testify that he never said those things. While he didn’t think the woman was purposefully lying, he said she was reacting emotionally to the child’s false outcry and it caused her to misunderstand his innocent explanation of what occurred.

The Crown told jurors that explanation was “patronising and ridiculous”. Radich suggested that the testimony of the defendant – a self-described playwright and actor who formerly lived in Los Angeles with the hopes of selling his scripts – had a “slightly performative aspect to it”.

Some details of the case cannot be reported for legal reasons.

Moncarz, who has no previous convictions, also sought discounts from his sentence today for his previous good character, providing the court with numerous letters of support. Some of the letter-writers, the judge noted, are still having trouble believing the jury’s verdict.

“It has certainly been a major fall from grace on your part,” Judge Webby said.

But any discount, he continued, has to be tempered by the fact the offending took place over a prolonged period – meaning it wasn’t just a one-off breach of good character. He allowed a six-month discount, bringing his starting sentence of six years down to a final sentence of five-and-a-half years.

The judge also ordered that Moncarz be added to the Child Sex Offender Register for life.

As Moncarz’s sentence was determined, his victim watched via an audio-video feed from another room in the courthouse. The child submitted a written victim impact statement to the judge but it was not read aloud.

The child’s mother did read her own victim impact statement, sitting in the witness box as she described the turmoil that both the offending and the trial had put her family through.

“His manipulative behaviour caused significant stress to [my daughter] and the rest of us,” she said, adding that, meanwhile, he was falsely presenting himself as “a pillar of the community”.

Moncarz is an American who grew up in Florida before immigrating to New Zealand as an adult. In media interviews from around the time Deep Green Bush School was established, he was described as a former “mainstream teacher” who struck out on his own “after five frustrating years” in the New Zealand school system.

Students at the school were taught hunting and survival skills, while less emphasis was put on traditional subjects like reading and writing until individuals expressed an interest in the matters. The curriculum was controversial even among some of the parents, jurors learned during the trial.

Moncarz has also been a prolific writer of essays published on his now-dormant website, with subjects ranging from anti-vaccination to the dangers of 5G and genetically modified food.

“Your parents are full of lies,” began an essay published by Moncarz in September in which he argued that dismantling civilisation and distrust of government is the best form of environmentalism. “You could even say that your parents are gaslighting you. They’re trying to convince you of a reality that is not true.”

By Craig Kapitan
Published in NZ Herald