Benefit cheats stole $237,000

Four Taranaki benefit fraudsters fleeced the taxpayer of more than $237,000 after lying to Work and Income about their lives.

In the worst of the cases before New Plymouth District Court yesterday, 63-year-old Pahe Claudine Collier, also known as Davis, reaped $137,000 over nearly 11 years while she was also working.

Another, Lisa Reid, 34, of Warea, was living with a partner, Albie Reade, for four years while still getting a domestic purposes benefit. She received $80,500 to which she was not entitled.

Davis, Reid, Heather Rangitonga, 56, and Beverley Ann Marie Coster, 45, all admitted they stole from taxpayers.

Coster, now a chef in Hamilton, received $11,500 on a domestic purposes benefit while working, and Rangitonga, a New Plymouth caregiver, received $9200 through an invalid's benefit, also while working.

In sentencing Davis to one year and eight months in jail, Judge Max Courtney said benefit fraud affected every taxpayer, and tarnished honest beneficiaries.

Davis' lawyer, Andrew Laurenson, said his client was a fragile woman who suffered depression after losing two children to drowning. She was remorseful and ashamed, and had only recently told her family, who were in court supporting her.

But Judge Courtney said Davis appeared to have a sense of entitlement to the money, which she told her probation officer she needed for her adult children.

The judge said it was more likely she was motivated by greed and any remorse was for being caught rather than for what she had done.

Repaying the department at $80 a week was "but a drop in the bucket". Deterrence was more important than her ability to repay, the judge said.

The Social Development Ministry's head of fraud, Mike Smith, said yesterday the four cases were a result of his unit's hard work to protect the integrity of the welfare system.

Collier was detected by the ministry during a data-match with the Inland Revenue Department.

It revealed that Davis was working for the Te Whare Puawai O Te Tangata Trust and the Te Ihi Rangi Trust while receiving a benefit. She made the choice to lie about her circumstances to get money to which she was not entitled, Mr Smith said.

"We caught her and today she was jailed by the courts."

Rangitonga, who is repaying her invalid's benefit at $150 a week, was sentenced to 200 hours of community work.

Coster and Reid will be back before the court for sentencing on August 30.

The ministry investigated these people separately and gathered the evidence needed to show they lied about their personal circumstances, Mr Smith said.

"The benefit system is here to help people who genuinely need support. Unfortunately, some see this system as a target to steal from."

Taranaki Daily News