A young Hamilton mother lied about being married for three years to defraud the Ministry of Social Development of just over $40,000.
But due to being a mother, E'Ma Shelford avoided a home detention sentence when she appeared in the Hamilton District Court on Thursday, with Judge Robert Spear preferring to let her care for her two teenagers and keep her job as a teacher aide.
Shelford, 29, was first granted the domestic purposes benefit in 2008 but got married in September 2010.
However, she continued to sign documents stating that she was single and only supporting her two teenagers.
When interviewed on April 16 last year, Shelford told ministry investigators that she was aware of her obligations but that her husband was like a boarder and everything they did was separate, including their finances.
In total Shelford stole $40,288.90.
In sentencing her to four months' community detention and 150 hours' community work, Judge Spear accepted Shelford's lawyer Robyn Nicholson's submission that the fraud was a case of "need rather than greed".
Judge Spear was unimpressed with the offending, saying a "sizeable" amount was stolen out of a limited pool of funds available to beneficiaries.
"And you have plauded it for your own selfish purposes."
Shelford's employer was still keen to support her despite her actions, he said.
"There's a fine line between home detention and community detention but I am persuaded that community detention would be appropriate because it would enable you to continue to work at the school, but it will also be coupled with community work."
Shelford has been paying back the money at $25 per week.
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