Johnny Bennett’s Danger’s Lager flew off supermarket shelves on its release toward the end of 2017. Within months, the product had vanished, leaving in its wake debt, deceit and scathing accusations.
Twelve months on from his death, the social media comedian’s heartbroken parents are fighting to save their son’s beer company.
Bennett’s death was a sudden and shocking loss to many, but to no one more so than his parents, who are desperately trying to continue his legacy.
“He wanted his beer to go to four corners of the Earth and we couldn’t even start to attempt it,” his mother Gina exclusively told Newshub, fighting back tears at the family’s West Auckland home.
On the morning of his death, Bennett arranged a meeting to discuss the dire state of affairs the company was in with a creditor, Steam Brewing, who claimed to be owed more than $330,000, but the 29-year-old never made it.
Bennet was killed when he got into trouble on a rough road on Dairy Flat Highway in Albany, came off his bike and hit a power pole on April 25 last year.
Bennett’s company organised the production and distribution of more than half a million dollars’ worth of beer in the months prior, but at the time of his death, the business account was in overdraft.
Those closest to the amateur stuntman say his business partner Daniel Green left his parents no way to carry on Danger’s Lager a year on from their son’s death.
“I don’t know how to put it into words. It’s just destroying,” his dad Steven says visibly stressed, the pain of their battle having taken a huge toll on their humble livelihood.
The family’s allegations include Green moving and using company money for personal expenses, not paying company bills, hiding and keeping profits from merchandise sold and serving notices without lawful authority on alcohol shops around the country to directly collect payments.
Bennett had been trusting, eager to launch a successful venture, but his friends and family say he wasn’t business-savvy and was naive.
The situation was starting to come to light, but the tragic accident prevented him from seeking justice, his anger now inherited by his parents determined to expose the “gut-wrenching” antics they believe took place.
“Johnny was an honest person so he believed everyone else was honest,” Gina says.
Julian Rivers-Smith, who had known Bennett for more than 10 years and was appointed the director of Bennett’s company after he died, says his longtime friend relied on Green and accountant Hemi Joyce to take care of the financials. There were three signatories, Green, Bennett and Joyce, but only two sign offs were required to release payments.
Known for his comedic, home-made videos, Bennett boasted fans around New Zealand and the world. It was his natural knack for entertaining that saw trademark antics like his ‘danger swig’, boisterous stunts, random acts of kindness and displays of athleticism keep followers engaged.
But Bennett was keen to grow beyond the social spotlight. He wanted to create a legacy and achieve his dreams of helping his family.
Gina and Steven first got wind of their son’s plans to launch his own beer when he asked them to be included in a skit for MTV Presents.
“He said ‘mum I am coming up, and I am going to do a video and I want you and Dad and the whole family to be in it, it’s about me wanting to start a brewery and you have to act pissed off about it’.”
They did, appearing in the videos as though they dismissed his idea and didn’t support it. In truth, they got behind any idea their son had and knew if he believed in it, it could happen.
“When he met Daniel Green at a basketball game, that’s when it really became reality,” Gina says.
Bennett incorporated a company on August 28, 2017, Scotch Fileha Limited to produce a beer brand of his own, Danger’s Lager.
Joyce was a director of Scotch Fileha Limited for short stints twice but by September 28, it was only Bennett who was listed as a director. Bennett owned 85% of shares. The other 15% are owned by Tasray Holdings – a company part-owned by former Breakers coach Jeff Green, Daniel Green’s father.
The beer hit shelves on September 21 and took off, going on to win a bronze medal at the 2017 Brewers Guild of New Zealand.
Green and Bennett were initially paid equal wages in October 2017, the company’s bank statements seen by Newshub show.
Early transactions include payment of creditors including Steam Brewing, who brewed and bottled Danger’s Lager, label makers Hally Labels and PBT, the delivery company and incoming payments from suppliers selling the beer.
Scotch Fileha statements show money usually reserved for bills then began to be put toward non-business expenses.
On November 3 2017, $34,000 was paid into an ASB business account, set up for a marketing company Green and Bennett planned to launch, Relinquish NZ Limited. The payment was described as a “loan”, before an additional $10,520 was moved from the Scotch Fileha to the Relinquish account, both amounts authorised by Joyce and Green.
Most of the money was spent on food and living expenses via internet payments or in-store across Hamilton. Green, who lives in Hamilton, was the only one who had access to an eftpos card for this account.
A total of $7,183 was also paid to another account in Green’s name, Relinquish statements show.
The funds were also used for rental of an upmarket residential address on the river in Hamilton for their office.
Johnny’s former girlfriend Amanda Baker who he lived with in Auckland told Newshub he was furious when he found out their office space was a luxury home.
She says he went ahead and rented out a five bedroom house, on the Hamilton river with a spa to throw parties which came out of the Danger’s Lager earnings.
In January, two transactions were made totalling $2886.28 from the Scotch Fileha account into Green’s personal account with a reference as ‘Bay Dreams Tickets’.
After going into a bank and obtaining a month worth of statements, Amanda says Bennett was livid when he saw the transaction for the festival which she says Green “bought for all his friends in Hamilton” which she says was never ever discussed with Johnny, “not once”. He also noticed $10,520 moved into the Relinquish account without his knowing.
“Johnny spoke to my step dad Mark and he was not happy, he knows as an experienced business owner that you can’t just be taking money putting it into accounts and buying whatever you want with company money.”
She says Bennett invited Green over to the home he was living at with Baker’s mum and step father, Mark, when the group confronted Green.
“Daniel came over for a meeting not knowing what was about to happen, that Mark and Johnny were going to confront him. He played it off like it was not an issue; ‘didn’t think you would care bro as I would just pay it back,’ telling him not to stress about it and he will pay it back by next week.”
Bennett’s parents Gina and Steven met Green for the first time at the crematorium in Snapper Rock after their son’s death.
The family had planned a trip to Thailand for their daughter’s 21st birthday, which they decided to honour despite Bennett’s death, believing after much consideration he wouldn’t want them to throw it in.
When they returned, it had been sixteen days since Bennett passed away when Gina contacted Westpac NZ and notified the bank of their son’s death.
A lengthy battle with Westpac NZ ensued as they attempted to get signing authority on the accounts, initially to find out if the company had been running at a profit or a loss. Bennett’s parents found out the brewery bill was sitting $330,000 through word of mouth between a Steam Brewing employee and one his their son’s friends.
The Bennetts met with Green in the same week. They told him that Johnny’s father Steven had inherited the 85% shares of the company and expressed their wish for the beer to continue once they were able to look at the accounts.
Green refused to share with them any of the bank account statements and told them he had sorted out the bill with Steam Brewing when Steven confronted him about it. Green asked for a month to get everything else in order.
“He said ‘just give me a month and I’ll get it all sorted, you can come on board, I’ll need your help’,” Steven says. “So we gave him a month and that was it, we never saw him again, we still have not seen him to this day. He could have given us the accounts.”
“Everything was lie after lie after lie, said he’d come and see us, and never did. Multiple times he told us he would sort it out but it just did not happen. Dodgy Daniel” Gina says.
Gina and Steven Bennett met with the Steam Brewing’s owner, Steve Kermode. He told them the outstanding debt with Steam Brewing alone was not cleared.
“Straight away when we had the meeting with Steve he told us none of the bills had been paid since November to him, I knew Daniel Green was up to something,” Gina says.
Steam Brewing employee Kampbell Clifton says he informed Bennett that there were outstanding invoices that had become overdue for the last dispatch of product and unless these were paid, no more product would be released. He says Johnny was unaware that this situation had arisen and assured that it would be sorted.
“When we showed him the bill was over $330,000, Johnny was distraught,” Clifton told Newshub.
Bennett had told Clifton that he had no oversight across the bank accounts.
“Dan controlled the money coming in and out of Scotch Fileha, Johnny never looked at it because he had no reason to,” Clifton says.
“It was running fine until a month before the accident. Johnny came to Steam Brewing in the weekend to watch us put new tanks in and we showed him the bill. He said he didn’t understand how this had happened.”
He says he then spoke to Bennett a week later and he said he is sorting out some “internal issues,” expressing at that time concerns about Green handling the finances.
Amanda says Bennett had told her about the same time that Green was not being honest with him.
“Johnny finally got the login and password to the Danger’s Lager bank account after asking Dan for a long time, he finally had to give it to Johnny after running out of excuses,” Amanda says.
After six months in business together and “trusting Green at his word every step”, she says Bennett finally obtained access to the bank accounts. She says Bennett started going through the statements and realised things “weren’t adding up”.
“Money was being taken out and put into the Relinquish account as well as some money into Dan’s personal,” she says.
Bennett was “so angry” she says, finding out his ‘business partner’, and supposedly one of his best friends, had been taking money out of the business account without asking.
“To be honest, I think he was angry with himself as well because he believed Daniel Green but we all did. I mean this Daniel sold him the dream, he sold it to everyone,” Amanda said.
“Johnny let him into our home, our life, spent numerous hours on the phone even considered moving to Hamilton at one point, but the whole time he was stealing and using Johnny, he was a professional liar and was good at it too.
“Dan sold himself to everyone especially Johnny as this high up business-savvy guy who knew everyone and people in the right places, and that he managed the Breakers, and could get him his own little segment on TV, but he was just a fraud.
“He was a con-man who thought he was going to get away with it and it makes me sick to this very day,” she says.
Amanda, Bennett’s family and Clifton believe that there is hundreds of thousands of dollars of product, merchandise or money unaccounted for and belongs to Johnny’s company, Scotch Fileha Ltd.
He says all the profits from the Danger’s Lager merchandise that Green had in his possession were never seen because Green controlled the PayPal account where funds were deposited.
Five days after Bennett’s death, a lump sum was deposited into the Scotch Fileha account from PayPal totalling $51,729 before $23,125.86 of that was then slowly paid out to a company called Servetech Limited, co-owned by Green, who is the only director.
An investor into Servetech told Newshub that Green owes thousands and thousands of dollars to people who put money into that company, which is now liquidated.
Newshub understands Green is also involved in another beverage company, Mananui Water, which took on other social media influencers to market the product. He is also in the middle of launching another bourbon company, with another social media influencer.
Despite multiple attempts at obtaining a statement from Daniel Green, he refused to comment formally.
Jeff Green told Newshub that he was unaware his company owned 15% of shares in Scotch Fileha and did not know of any of the allegations against his son, who he is not in regular communication with.
At the time of publishing, Scotch Fileha still appears not to have paid a number of invoices. Steam Brewing claims it is owed $333,000, Hally Labels Limited demand $18,140 and a bill is still outstanding to PBT couriers for $22,000. The Bennett family had to repay a further $32,000 debt owed to Visa Global logistics company.
Scotch Fileha Limited is now in liquidation and is being investigated following the petition of Hally Labels Limited on 8 April 2019 at the Hamilton High Court, an Insolvency and Trustee Services spokesperson told Newshub.
Under the Companies Act 1993 a liquidation order can be terminated but the parents would struggle to front the cash needed for a lawyer to pursue that option.
The Bennett family will go to the police as well as the Serious Fraud Office with their allegations now they have been able to obtain the bank statements following Newshub’s investigation.
“I get asked everyday where’s Danger’s Lager and I’ve got no answers for them because of what Daniel Green’s done.”
“Because of his actions and greed we were unable to keep Johnny’s legacy alive which was for his beer to reach all four corners of the Earth,” Gina says.
The couple say they are determined to seek justice for their son while holding great animosity for Green.
“We will never, ever forgive him for taking Johnny’s legacy away.”