Mother stole benefit money 'to help family'

SEAMUS BOYER WAIRARAPA
Last updated 05:00 09/11/2012

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A woman who ripped off more than $90,000 in benefits to provide "security" for her family will spend the rest of her life paying it back - from her benefit.

Jacqueline Ara Kopua, 40, fraudulently claimed $91,488 from the Social Development Ministry over a period of eight years.

The Masterton woman, who had received the domestic purposes benefit since 1995, failed to tell the ministry she was living with a partner for two periods between 2002 and 2011.

She also lied to Work and Income numerous times, by falsely filling out forms to claim a range of benefits, including emergency benefits.

Although she must now pay the money back, no reparations were ordered as payments will be taken from Kopua's future benefits.

Her lawyer, Frank Minehan, told Masterton District Court yesterday that his client would "spend the rest of her life" paying back the money.

Kopua had been "misguided" in taking the money as a form of security for herself and her children.

Her partner, David Maia Edmonds, had also recently been convicted of "benefit abuse", he said. Despite claiming to live alone, Kopua was found by the ministry to have been living with Edmonds at her Dixon St home between December 2002 and December 2008, and again between April 2009-April 2011.

When interviewed last year, Kopua said she was aware of her obligations but had not come clean as she regarded the money "as a security thing" for her and her children.

Ministry deputy chief executive Iona Holsted said Kopua was now "repaying what she stole".

"We will pursue this money for as long as it takes. Every client has a legal obligation to tell Work and Income of any changes in their circumstances which could impact on their entitlement.

"Had Ms Kopua done the right thing, as the vast majority of our clients do, she wouldn't be in this position."

Judge Peter Hobbs said Kopua's offending was premeditated and gave all beneficiaries a bad name.

He convicted her and sentenced her to eight months' home detention and 150 hours' community work.

In September, Kopua pleaded guilty to eight charges of dishonestly using a document, and one of failing to advise the ministry of changes to her circumstances.

Contact Seamus Boyer
Wairarapa reporter
Email: seamus.boyer@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @SeamusBoyer

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- The Dominion Post

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