Invercargill woman guilty of $78k benefit fraud

A woman has been found guilty of $78k in benefit fraud in the Invercargill District Court.
ROBYN EDIE

A woman has been found guilty of $78k in benefit fraud in the Invercargill District Court.

An Invercargill woman who ripped off the Government for about 20 years by pretending her partner was a boarder has been convicted on multiple counts of fraud.

The woman, in her 60s, was granted interim name suppression on Monday after Judge Mark Callaghan found her guilty on 15 charges of using a document to obtain pecuniary advantage.

The verdict came on the sixth day of a judge-alone trial in the Invercargill District Court.

Judge Callaghan said the woman had "deliberately and purposefully" concealed the fact she lived with a de facto partner from the late 1970s until at least 2012.

False declarations submitted between 1992 and 2009, along with other offences committed up until 2013, allowed her to dishonestly obtain more than $78,000 in benefits and pensions, he said.

On some forms she referred to her de facto partner as a boarder, and on others she did not mention him at all or said she was divorced, the judge said.

In summing up, Judge Callaghan said he was satisfied the woman and her children began living with a man and his son in the late 1970s.

The judge said the man's son, while giving evidence last week, had described the group as "a family unit".

They lived together in four houses around the city, and would eat meals, go on weekend outings and attend family and social functions together, he said.

The man's son could not recall his father and the defendant ever kissing, but he said they cuddled and he was told he could refer to the woman either by her name or as "mum".

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While the de facto's son was told to tell people that his father slept in a single bed in his bedroom, he never saw his father sleeping in it, Judge Callaghan said.

The woman's claim that her relationship with the man was one of landlady and boarder was "fiction", he said.

The man's daughter also briefly lived with them when she was 13.

Defence lawyer David Slater said the man's children had a motive to lie because they had an "obvious dislike" for the woman because of how she treated their father, who has since died.

There were a "lack of indicators" pointing to a relationship between the pair. They had no joint bank accounts or insurance policies, he said.

No witnesses could report seeing the woman and the man ever sleeping in the same bed, Slater said.

But Judge Callaghan said there were several indications of "a sharing of a commitment" between the pair.

They raised their children together, comforted each other in times of stress and attended family functions as a couple, he said.

The constuction of a garage the man built to house his car was funded using money the woman had inherited, and the man had paid car insurance premiums for the woman's daughter, the judge said.

Death notices placed by the man in The Southland Times after his mother died were signed as being from the man, the woman and her children, the judge said.

The man had also referred to himself in a diary entry as "granddad" when writing about the woman's granddaughter.

"When each of these things is put together and viewed in their totality, the only inference that can be drawn is that the defendant and [the man] were demonstrating a degree of companionship," Judge Callaghan said.

Judge Callaghan remanded the woman on bail to September 22 for sentence.

She was granted interim name suppression until that date because of mental health concerns and the potential that her young granddaughter may be identified.

The judge sought a pre-sentence report, along with a reparation report from the Ministry of Social Development.

 - The Southland Times

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