A convicted child sex offender who later worked as a camera operator for organisations including Auckland’s Museum of Transport and Technology, Football New Zealand and the television production company that makes What Now, has admitted sharing images of children being sexually abused.
Nikola Michael Marinovich continued to work with children until June of this year while on bail, facing charges of possessing videos of children being sexually abused.
On Tuesday, he appeared at the Auckland District Court where he admitted seven charges, including possessing sharing and making images and videos of children being sexually abused.
It is not the first time Marinovich has been before the courts.
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In 2012, Marinovich abused three young women in while working as a cheerleading coach.
He was sentenced to two years and seven months in prison for unlawful sexual connection and sexual violation.
Despite those convictions, Marinovich went on to work as a camera operator, bringing him into contact with children.
According to court documents released to Stuff, authorities received a tip-off about Marinovich sharing images of children being sexually abused.
When they searched his home they found hard drives and laptops with 4658 images showing the sexual exploitation of children. Some photos showed babies being sexually abused.
Customs agents found a collection of girls’ school uniforms in Marinovich’s bedroom and two large bags of women’s underwear and cheerleading uniforms.
Inside a safe in the house Customs found an encrypted hard drive, along with .37g of methamphetamine and two tabs of LSD.
When agents bypassed the encryption, they found more images showing children being sexually abused.
Inside the glovebox of his 2005 Audi, with the numberplate FILMNZ, agents found a USB device with more objectionable material saved on it.
At court on Tuesday, Marinovich’s lawyer, Benjamin Kirkpatrick, asked for his client to be bailed so he could continue work with a psychiatrist to address the underlying causes of his offending.
Crown lawyer Kirsten Lummis said a term of imprisonment was inevitable and the Crown would be asking for a starting point of eight years. She opposed bail.
Judge Sinclair agreed that there was little prospect of Marinovich receiving a sentence in the community and remanded him in custody. Marinovich blew a kiss to his parents, sitting in the public gallery.
Until Tuesday, he had been on bail. One of his conditions included not to be around children.
However, Stuff has learned Marinovich was hired by the Museum of Transport and Technology (Motat) as recently as June to film a promotional video.
The museum’s chief executive Michael Frawley told Stuff that Marinovich’s company, Skyvision, also produced a promotional video on the museum’s Slime Weekend in November 2019, its Christmas lights exhibition the following month and a further event in May 2020.
“Motat was not aware of Mr Marinovich’s convictions and, in fact, he referred to himself as Nic Marinovich, as opposed to Nikola Marinovich in all our dealings with him.”
He said Marinovich and his employees spent about two hours at the museum for each shoot.
“A member of the marketing and communication team and the children’s parents and guardians were present throughout the filming of the exhibition and holiday programme footage.”
He said Marinovich would never have had the opportunity to be alone with children.
Frawley said parents of the children had since been contacted. The museum has also stopped using Marinovich’s promotional videos.
He said Motat ran police checks on staff and contractors it called “core workers”.
However, he said, vetting was not deemed necessary in Marinovich’s case as he was not going to be working alone with children.
He said Motat would be reviewing its procedures in light of the case.
New Zealand Football (NZF) is another organisation which hired Marinovich and is now reviewing its vetting procedures.
The organisation said it had employed the Kiwi start-up turned global video production company 90 Seconds over the past four years.
Marinovich was a contractor for 90 Seconds and worked on two shoots with NZF in March and November 2019, filming children learning football skills.
In a written statement, NZF said Marinovich was supervised by NZF staff and parents but the organisation was “deeply disturbed” to learn of his past convictions.
“It is our expectation that [90 Seconds] should have carried out appropriate background checks and the fact 90 Seconds didn’t do this is extremely concerning.”
NZF said it had notified the parents of the children and no issues had been reported.
“It is our expectation… that any company, especially a large global organisation such as 90 Seconds, should be appropriately safety checking all of their staff,” it said.
“We will be requiring all professional service providers whom we engage, whose role may involve working with children or vulnerable adults, to explicitly confirm that they have safety checked the employees and subcontractors undertaking those positions.”
NZF said it will no longer be working with 90 Seconds.
Stuff wrote to the New Zealand-born director of 90 Seconds, Tim Norton, who now lives in Singapore.
Norton did not respond personally but a response from 90 Seconds said the company learned of Marinovich’s previous convictions in March.
“We also found the freelancer [Marinovich] was utilising our platform with a different spelling of his name, potentially to avoid identification.”
The company stopped using Marinovich immediately.
“As per our safety protocols, no children were left alone with the crew members.”
The company said because Marinovich was facing fresh charges, the decision had been taken not to tell clients about him and his record.
Stuff asked 90 Seconds what prevented the company from telling clients they had been in contact with a man with convictions for sexual offending from 2012.
The company did not respond. It also declined to answer questions about the number of 90 Seconds clients Marinovich had been in contact with.
The company said it was treating the Marinovich case with “the utmost importance” and was implementing new screening processes for contractors.
Marinovich was also employed to film the Weet-Bix Kids Tryathlon in 2018 and again in 2019.
In a letter to parents, Sanitarium NZ general manager Rob Scoines said the company was not aware of any complaints involving Marinovich.
He said Marinovich was employed by a film production company and a sponsor, neither of which were named in the letter.
“I would like to assure you that we take this individual’s attendance at these events seriously. I would also like to assure you that we have always maintained strict vetting processes for all staff directly contracted by us and expect that third-party suppliers uphold the same high standards as we do with regards to the people they employ.”
He said Sanitarium’s records showed Marinovich was monitored by a representative.
Scoines also said the company’s processes were under review.
“We are obviously very disappointed and concerned that an individual with this background is able to work in the industry in this way, and we are determined to ensure that this situation can never happen again.”
Stuff contacted Scoines to ask further questions, but he did not respond.
Marinovich worked as a camera operator for the production company Whitebait Media, owned by Jason Gunn and his wife, Janine Morrell-Gunn.
The company produces the much-loved children’s show What Now. A source said Marinovich worked on the show.
In a statement, Morrell-Gunn said she was shocked and upset to learn of Marinovich’s prior convictions.
She said the police advised Whitebait back in 2017 that it was not necessary to run police checks on staff who would not have direct contact with children.
“In hindsight, this was a failure on our part and one which we are deeply sorry for. We now require police vetting of all staff, contractors and freelancers to ensure this never ever happens again.”
She said mandatory police vetting for all staff and contractors who worked on set with children needed to be carried out with the industry’s health and safety organisation, Screensafe.
Morrell-Gunn would not answer questions about how many shows Marinovich worked on.
The police would not answer questions relating to the advice given to Whitebait.
Stuff also contacted Screensafe for comment but there was no response.
During Marinovich’s 2013 sentencing for sexual offending, the court heard he drove two girls to Auckland’s Mission Bay where he gave them alcohol and cannabis before sexually abusing them.
One of the girls, aged 14, was so intoxicated, she vomited in his car.
Marinovich sexually abused a third girl, aged 15, during a one-on-one training session in West Auckland.
He will be sentenced for his latest offending in September.