Mortgage deal sees fraudster avoid jail

SASHA BORISSENKO
Last updated 12:58 13/05/2014

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A woman who defrauded ACC out of $200,000 has avoided jail after mortgaging her house to pay reparation.

Self-employed website designer, Wendy Maree Whitehead, 56, was yesterday sentenced to 10 months home detention and 160 hours of community work on one charge of using a document for pecuniary advantage and seven charges of dishonestly using a document.

A jury found her guilty of the charges that related to her claiming ACC while living with a partner. Whitehead's husband, Ian James Whitehead, was killed in a farming accident in 1987.

Together they had two children, aged 18 months to 10 years at the time of the incident.

According to the prosecution summary of facts, Whitehead received weekly ACC payments. She was required to complete a "continuing dependency" declaration on an annual basis, which specified whether she had since married, remarried or entered into a de facto relationship.

In 1998, Mark Lowe moved into Whitehead's property and assisted her to set up an olive tree grove.

Within the next two years the pair formed a relationship.

Between 2003 until 2010 Whitehead completed the continuing dependency forms and explicitly failed to declare she had married or was in a defacto relationship, the court was told.

ACC conducted an official investigation and found Whitehead was in a relationship from April 1, 2003. ACC weekly payments should have ceased in 2005.

In August 2010, Whitehead admitted she and Lowe lived together, holidayed together and had an ongoing intimate relationship , but she denied being in a de facto relationship. She was overpaid $213,398.

At the sentence indication hearing on April 1, crown prosecutor Sophie O'Donoghue said with tax payer funds, Whitehead was financially savvy which enabled her to live the life she wanted.

Defence counsel Steven Zindel said his client had good attributes according to her supporters and she was assessed as being a low risk to the public.

It was Whitehead's first appearance before a court.

In yesterday's sentencing, Zindel told the court Whitehead had since transferred the total reparations sought of $213,398 into a trust account.

Whitehead was able to pay the reparation costs because she took out a mortgage on her property.

She was prepared to pay the reparations in full.

Judge Tony Zohrab said a suitable starting point was a two-and-a-half year prison sentence.

Because of the recovered reparation costs, Whitehead could avoid imprisonment. She was sentenced to 10 months home detention and 160 hours of community work.

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At the sentence indication hearing Judge Zohrab said he agreed entirely with the jury and their decision to convict Whitehead.

"It is so easy for people to be dishonest."

Whitehead received almost double the amount she was entitled to and was to suffer the consequences. He decided against giving any credit for showing a sense of remorse given the premeditated nature and the duration of the offending.

- The Nelson Mail

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