Benefit-cheating grandmother jailed
HAWKE'S BAY REPORTER
A Napier grandmother who illegally claimed nearly $170,000 in benefit payments has been jailed for more than two years.
Pani Walker, 57, was sentenced by Judge Richard Watson in Napier District Court yesterday after pleading guilty to 10 charges of unlawfully using a document.
At various times since 1992 Walker used various names to receive an extra domestic purposes benefit, unemployment benefit, sickness benefit and invalid's benefit.
She also received a disability allowance, student allowance, unemployment benefit training, accommodation benefit and a special needs grant.
When caught, Walker said she had wanted to see if she could get away with it. The total amount claimed illegally was $167,691.
Her lawyer, James Rainger, asked for a sentence of less than two years' prison so Walker could apply for home detention, but Judge Watson said he needed to denounce the offending and deter others.
Although Walker was given a discount for her remorse and for an early guilty plea, Judge Watson said she had been given the opportunity to come clean about her offending on several occasions. That she had chosen not to was an aggravating factor, he said.
"It was a clear breach of trust. I accept that initially it might have occurred by accident but then every step has been a premeditated step."
Before sentencing her to two years and one month in jail he acknowledged Walker was a fulltime caregiver and suffered from poor health.
Social Development Ministry chief executive Iona Holsted said Walker went to extraordinary lengths to deceive the ministry.
"But we caught her and now she's paying back what she stole . . . This type of offending can't happen today. Our controls are much stronger now than when Walker began her offending."
Walker would repay the money she owed from any benefit she received on her release from prison, Ms Holsted said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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