Benefit con couple

JONO GALUSZKA
Last updated 07:17 10/05/2012

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A man convicted of benefit fraud has been described as "lucky'' to be charged separately to his de facto partner.

In Palmerston North District Court yesterday, Adrian Martin and partner Athena Dana Tuahinekore Silailai-Ngatai - both aged 30 - were sentenced on benefit fraud charges.

At the end of their three-day defended hearing last month, Judge David Smith said they had been ``working in concert''.

But since they were charged separately, they were sentenced separately yesterday.

Martin's defence lawyer, Phillip Drummond, said his client was ``lucky'' to not be charged with Silailai-Ngatai, as her offending was far greater.

Martin was convicted on seven charges of benefit fraud in which his benefit was overpaid by $4000 between 2006 and 2010, while Silailai-Ngatai was convicted of nine charges which resulted in her being overpaid by $76,935 between 2004 and 2010.

"Perhaps if the way he has been charged [were different] things could have fallen out differently,'' Mr Drummond said.

Prosecutor Pip Transom said both the offenders had planned their offending  and the fact they worked together was an aggravating factor.

She asked Judge Smith to sentence Silailai-Ngatai to about two years in prison  and Martin to about 300 hours' community work.

Silailai-Ngatai's lawyer, Mike Andrews, asked for his client to be sentenced to home detention.

He said she had two children, for whom she was the primary caregiver, and was also five months' pregnant.

Judge Smith said the degree of dishonesty, the amount obtained and the serious breaches of trust involved were factors he had to take into account.

He sentenced Silailai-Ngatai to nine months' home detention and 100 hours of community work, and Martin to one year of supervision and 250 hours' community service.

Speaking outside  court, Ministry of Social Development head of fraud Mike Smith said the couple had been "held to account''.

"If this couple had done the right thing, like the vast majority of our clients do, they wouldn't be in court and the money they stole could have been spent on people who need it,'' he said.

"I trust this couple will spend some of their sentence thinking about those they've stolen from and the consequences of their actions.''

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- Manawatu Standard

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