A Kihikihi woman who stole more than $130,000 to keep her family together has escaped a prison sentence.
Suzanne Mary Cook, 53, was sentenced in the Te Awamutu District Court yesterday to nine months home detention and 150 hours community service for fraudulently obtaining the Domestic Purposes Benefit when she was in a de facto relationship and also receiving supplements and allowances.
Cook stole a total of $137,580.74 over a 10-year period ending in October 2010.
In sentencing, Justice Robert Spear described the amount taken by Cook as "staggering."
"The sad reality is, it is the taxpayer who has to pick up the tab for your offending."
Spear told the court that Cook used the money "simply to keep the family together".
"Certainly there is nothing to suggest that you used it for the purposes of gambling . . . that explains the motivation behind your offending but it does not excuse it."
Spear told Cook she would have received a jail sentence of two to three years if the case was heard "a few years ago".
"There has however . . . been something of a change to that sentencing approach. Courts have now consistently imposed home detention and community work even for benefit fraud of this level."
Cook's two daughters' provided letters to the court "pleading for consideration" to be given to their mother, Spear said.
A pre-sentence report filed by the Probation Department described Cook as being at low risk of re-offending.
Spear gave Cook credit for her early guilty plea and for being "genuinely remorseful."
Cook is paying off the debt at $24 per week, a payment which Spear said will take Cook her lifetime and half of another lifetime to pay off.
New legislation by the Government to be introduced this month will see partners of those suspected of benefit fraud held to account.
The Social Security (Fraud Measures and Debt Recovery) Amendment Bill allows authorities to pursue spouses and partners as well as those suspected of fraudulent behaviour.
Previously, only the person who had "signed the dotted line" with the ministry could be charged, unless the partner also falsely signed documents.
- Waikato Times