Overpayment puzzling for centre owner

BELINDA FEEK
Last updated 05:00 22/08/2014

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The former owner of a Hamilton early childhood centre accused of fraud says she had never wondered why she was receiving such large payments from the Ministry of Education.

On the fourth day of her five-day fraud trial in the Hamilton District Court yesterday, Trixie Rosina Leigh, 72, maintained that it was all a big "mistake".

She is accused of four counts of using a document for pecuniary advantage in February and June 2012 by submitting four forms to the Ministry of Education exaggerating the number of children that were attending her businesses - Trixie's Learning Centre and Trixie's Early Learning Centre - Babies.

It resulted in a $327,000 overpayment the ministry says the two businesses were not entitled to.

Trixie's Learning Centre was licensed for a maximum 38 children, while the Babies centre could have up to 20 youngsters on the roll.

Crown prosecutor Philip Crayton picked October 2011 for an example of her alleged exaggerated figures.

He said it was amazing that the lowest number of childcare hours for any day in October didn't fall below 82.

That would mean a minimum of 14 children would have been in the centre, while another day 86 hours were entered.

"You must have been skipping around the office when you did these figures, happy happy, when you did these figures," Crayton said. "And when you're not so busy, you had 14 children. That must have been an amazing turnabout for you?"

Leigh replied that she "hadn't thought about it like that. I was just getting the bills done and signed off"'.

Crayton put to Leigh that her figures fluctuated a lot, to which Leigh agreed. Crayton noted that it was unsual that they only went one way - up.

"In relation to you, the unders and overs always operate in the over.

"You never made a mistake that made you lose money. You always made a mistake that made you a vast amount of money."

Leigh said she didn't know how that happened. "I don't know, something happened, I don't know what, but that's the result." However, the alleged offending was worst between February and May 2012 where every day - bar two - she recorded maximum capacity in her Babies centre.

Leigh, again, said she didn't know why that happened and said it was a mistake.

"A mistake you made for every single day of the month," Crayton replied.

The trial, before a jury of seven men and five women, will wrap up today with closing submissions from prosecution and defence before summing up by Judge Barney Thomas.

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- Waikato Times

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