Conman claimed benefits

JONO GALUSZKA
Last updated 12:00 01/08/2014

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A Palmerston North man who once tried to scam an art dealer with fake Renoir and Gauguin paintings, and has more than 400 fraud convictions, has landed back in court after engaging in more frauds.

In the Palmerston North District Court yesterday, Steven Thomas McKelvey was sentenced to eight months' home detention for seven benefit fraud charges.

According to a summary of facts, he and his partner were on various benefits from 2007 until 2010.

McKelvey was employed during that time, working for and holding shares in a company called Phoenix Carpet Care.

On benefit review forms he said he earned $85 a week, despite bringing in much more than that through his company.

To try to hide his offending, he forged a document to make it look like the owner of a company said he made less than he did.

He managed to get himself and his partner $74,200 in overpaid benefits.

While some of the benefits were under his wife's name, only he was criminally liable for it.

It is not the first time McKelvey has lied for money.

McKelvey was sentenced to 4 years' imprisonment in 1989 for 425 fraud charges.

In an ironic twist, the charges were laid after he siphoned $1.9 million into his bank account while an employee of the former Department of Social Welfare - now part of the Ministry of Social Development - which took care of the benefit system.

In 2002, McKelvey nearly pulled off what was said to be one of New Zealand's biggest art scams, after getting Palmerston North art dealer Tony Martin to display false paintings by famed French masters Gauguin and Renoir.

In August 1998, McKelvey showed Martin a photo of a fake Gauguin painting, which the conman said was genuine.

Martin was given enough evidence to be convinced it was real, and moved to sell it and other paintings on McKelvey's behalf. Martin went as far as hiring an Auckland waterfront art gallery during the height of the America's Cup in 2000 to show off the pieces, which could have sold for millions of dollars.

However, the paintings were spotted as fakes by art critic John Perry, who famously said: "If they are by Paul Gauguin, I'm Vincent van Gogh."

McKelvey was ordered by a judge to pay Martin $100,000 in costs, but did not pay a cent after being made bankrupt for the second time.

Judge Barbara Morris said the benefit offending was a "significant fraud against the taxpayer over a significant period of time".

While imprisonment was the only possible starting point, the judge reduced his sentence because of his guilty plea and being partly blind.

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McKelvey must also pay back the $32,000 in overpaid benefits he directly received.

- Manawatu Standard

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