Woman convicted of benefit fraud totalling $92,000
A woman has been ordered to repay $40,000 of income support benefits after it was discovered she was living with her partner.
Karla Rose Pauline Graham, 28, Hawera, accumulated a debt totalling more than $92,000 over five years and eight months because she did not inform the ministry that she was living in a de facto relationship, Ministry of Social Development solicitor Michele Riordan told the Hawera District Court on Wednesday.
Graham, a store worker, appeared for sentence on 18 charges, one charge of obtaining by deception, eleven charges of dishonesty using a document and six charges of making a false statement, all of which she had previously admitted.
Investigation by the department showed the defendant, who had been paid a domestic purposes benefit since March 2006, had commenced living with her partner in December of 2009 but continued to receive benefit payments, said Riordan.
The defendant was interviewed on August 7 2015 and again on August 27, 2015 and stated that she was aware of her obligations but denied having a relationship or living in a relationship with her partner, apart from a two-month period.
Defence counsel Alice Leonard presented a letter of apology from the defendant to Judge Chris Sygrove.
Her client was extremely remorseful for her actions and had already begun making repayments of $50 per week towards the debt, Leonard said.
"It was a very on-and-off relationship. She knows she should have been more up front with WINZ. Her letter is heartfelt and she is already making a sizeable contribution to show here remorse."
Graham had two young children at home and was expecting a third baby in June, but planned to return to her job after the child was born.
Leonard argued that a reparation order for the full amount would be unfair.
"It would take her the majority of her life to pay that back."
She suggested a total of $10 to $20,00 was appropriate.
Judge Sygrove said the defendant's offending had been pre-meditated and repetitive.
He told Graham he had considered a sentence of imprisonment but took into account that it was her first offence, her remorse and her early guilty plea, and had decided that six months home detention was an appropriate sentence.
Graham would also do 100 hours of community work, starting in September, and was ordered to repay $40,000 in weekly instalments.