Home detention for ACC 'rip off'

06:01, Jun 27 2013
Brenetta Hemi
IN COURT: Brenetta Hemi during her sentencing in the Manukau District Court.

An Auckland woman who ripped off ACC for $125,000 by posing as the widow of a man crushed to death in a workplace accident has been sentenced to home detention.

Brenetta Hemi, 58, had ended her de-facto relationship with Waepeke Ruihana Tupaea five years before he died on a building site.

However, when she heard of his death, she told the undertaker she was still his partner and made an ACC claim. 

She was paid an immediate survivor's grant of $5653 and prospective weekly compensation for the next five years.

She drew the payments for nine months, then opted for a lump-sum payout that led to ACC depositing $125,341 into her bank account. In the Manukau District Court today Judge Charles Blackie described it as "a ripoff" and said only Hemi's clean criminal record and guilty pleas had saved her from a term of imprisonment.

"Anybody who misappropriates that amount of money by making false representations to ACC or the Ministry of Social Development would normally expect a sentence with a starting point of two years prison, perhaps more," he said.

That the Government would not see a penny of the ill-gotten gains made the offending worse.

Judge Blackie did not order reparation because it would be "setting her up to fail".

Despite swindling the six-figure sum, Hemi was said to have financial problems. She had previously refused to say how she spent the cash.

The judge sentenced Hemi to seven-and-a-half months' home detention, to be served at a Pukekohe property.

He said he hoped it would send a message to anyone else contemplating similar offending.

"It has to be a deterrent to you but perhaps more importantly a deterrent to others minded to make some quick money by some scam like this," he said. "Unfortunately it's all too common." 

Tupaea, 61, died in June 2009 while moving a house on to a marae in the Auckland suburb of Manurewa.

He was a rangatira at the marae and a former police detective.

The company in charge, Wiremu Asphalt, admitted not taking steps to ensure safety on the marae and was eventually fined $22,000. 

When Tupaea died, Hemi, who still goes by her de facto name Rae Tupaea, put her name on the death certificate as his partner.

A week later she submitted a form to ACC, stating she had been in a relationship with Tupaea for 34 years and was living with him at the time of his death.

However, an ACC investigation established Hemi had left the family home in 2004 and moved in with another man.

In September 2011, she admitted to investigators that she had not been living with Tupaea at the time of his death, but said their relationship was ongoing.

But in April this year she pleaded guilty to the two fraud charges - one representative charge of dishonestly using a document and one of making a false statutory declaration.

Many Tupaea family members were not aware of the charges and were shocked to hear about Hemi's offending. One relative, who did not want to be named, was disgusted when told the facts of the case.

"It doesn't sit well with me," she said. "Waepeke was a cool guy, always there for everyone ... it's sad."