War pension thief used money to help sick family members

TRACEY CHATTERTON
Last updated 10:37 13/08/2014
Lawrence McRae
JOHN COWPLAND/Fairfax NZ
WHY NOT: Lawrence McRae.

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A man who pocketed almost $90,000 of his late father's war pension used it to help out sick family members.

Lawrence McRae, 67, was a working man who lived a frugal life, the Napier District Court heard today.

But when his family needed supporting, he looked at the money accumulating in his late mother's bank account and thought: "Why not?"

His father Colin McRae received the veteran's war pension until he died in 1992. McRae served in the United Kingdom, Egypt, Greece and Crete during World War II. He was taken as prisoner of war when the Germans invaded Crete.

After his death, wife Iris continued to receive the pension, the police summary states.

In March last year Veterans' Affairs New Zealand had mail returned that it had sent to Iris McRae. After some digging, the New Zealand Defence Force unit discovered Iris had died almost 14 years ago - on October 7 1999.

Pension payments are supposed to cease the day after a surviving spouse passes away.

A year after her husband died, Iris gave son Robert access to the bank account that the pension was paid into. Brother Lawrence was later added as a signatory.

Robert, who is based in Australia, became the sole owner of the account when Iris passed away. Neither brother alerted the New Zealand Defence Force to their mothers death.

Lawrence told police he started using the pension money ''because the money helped''.

Between 2007 and 2013 he made 133 withdrawals from the account. Lawrence withdrew the money by writing out a cheque to a business or organisation or presenting a cash cheque to the teller, the summary states.

Lawrence said his brother did not know the pension was still being paid into the account.

He stopped using the account when he received a letter from Veterans' Affairs stating that he owed $89,259.89.

The difference between him and other fraudsters was that he did not use the money for grandiose means, lawyer Philip Jensen said.

He used the money to help a sick child and went to Australia to visit another child.

Jensen said while McRae's late parents would not have agreed with the manner that the money was used they would have got some satisfaction that the money they were entitled to was used to help younger generations.

McRae will likely die owning the New Zealand Army the money, Jensen said.

"He can chip away at it but it will never get paid in full."

Judge Jonathan Down said McRae was a man of "previous good character". He had lived frugally and the extra money went to his family. He believed the money was "recompense" for when his disability led him to neglect his family in the past, Judge Down said.

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McRae was sentenced to six months' home detention, 100 hours' community work and ordered to pay back just $4500 of the $89,259 he took.

RSA president Don McIver said McRae's actions were "unconscionable".

He would have known the pension recognised his father's service and the toll it took on him.

A veteran's pension was determined on their personal circumstances. If they were ill or disabled during service they were paid a higher amount. The war pension passed over to the Veteran's spouse if they were significantly disabled or impaired. It recognises the trials and tribulations they've experienced looking after their spouse, McIver said.

Colin Reginald McRae served in the United Kingdom, Egypt, Greece and Crete during World War II.

He fought in the battle of Crete while posted to C Company of the 22nd Battalion. His company was heavily mauled in battle and few men ever made it off Crete.

He spent the remainder of the war in German Prisoner of War (POW) camps - mainly in Stalag VIIIB.

McRae was sent to the New Zealand POW rehabilitation centre near Margate where he was nursed back to health. One of those nurses was Iris Corinne Perry who McRae later married.

- The Dominion Post

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