Benefit fraud balloons to $1.5m
A P-peddling dominatrix and a former Work and Income case manager are among the more than 50 benefit fraudsters prosecuted in the wider Manawatu region during the past financial year.
Double-dippers scammed almost $1.5 million of taxpayer money in 2012/13 - more than double what was fraudulently claimed the year before.
Figures released to the Manawatu Standard under the Official Information Act confirm the startling rise in prosecutions by the Ministry of Social Development.
Fifty-one people, who wrongly claimed $1,499,634, were convicted in the Palmerston North, Feilding, Levin and Dannevirke district courts.
Nobody was prosecuted in the Marton District Court.
Both the number of convictions and the amount of benefit overpayments were well up on previous years.
Nationally, 933 people were convicted for benefit fraud involving a total $26.4m. Not since 2007-2008 has the number been so high.
This increase comes as tougher measures are introduced by the ministry to combat benefit fraud, including more information-sharing with the Department of Inland Revenue and joint investigations with other agencies such as ACC.
The maximum punishment for fraudsters is seven years' jail, but many offenders are sentenced to home or community detention.
Woodville drugs queen Jolene Rose wasn't so lucky. While running a multimillion-dollar methamphetamine ring, selling cannabis, starting up a fledgling craft business and offering sexual services, she was also claiming sickness and domestic purposes benefits.
She received $45,000 to which she wasn't entitled - small change compared to the $120,000 she made through drug dealing in one 48-hour period, according to a text message read to her drugs trial.
Rose was this year jailed for 20 years, some of which was imposed for benefit fraud.
Also jailed was former Work and Income case manager Letitia Lilly Anne Proctor, who was sentenced to eight months behind bars.
Between December 2010 and October 2011 she received a $10,476 overpayment, offending that began while she was serving home detention for a $27,528 benefit fraud between August 2008 and May 2010.
She had been a Work and Income employee and created false identities to access client information for financial gain.
Between January 2008 and January 2011, Sandra Reay Taylor received an overpayment of $24,496 while she worked.
The deception continued as she served a five-month home detention sentence, imposed in June 2008, for stealing from Opiki school where she worked as an office administrator.
"The message must be given to beneficiaries who contemplate offending, as you have done, that if they are caught, it's not worth it," Judge Gregory Ross told Taylor when he sentenced her to 11 months' jail.
Associate Minister for Social Development Chester Borrows said only a "tiny minority" of beneficiaries abused the system, but those people were a drain on the taxpayer's coffers.
"The ideal number of people prosecuted for benefit fraud is of course zero.
"Unfortunately some people put their greed first and choose to defraud the welfare system.
"When that happens, we have a duty to the taxpayers who fund our welfare system to recover that money, and to ensure that offenders are punished for their actions."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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