Why I took the money - fraudster

Sokha Ly was trying to get by

BELINDA FEEK
Last updated 05:00 26/06/2014
Hamilton woman Sokha Ly, aka Sokha Singh, discusses her $224,961.01 predicament

DUBIOUS REIGNS: Hamilton woman Sokha Ly, aka Sokha Singh, discusses her $224,961.01 predicament in the lounge of her Fairfield home. She has now clocked up the highest amount of benefit fraud in the Waikato.

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Sokha Ly sits on the floor and eats her dinner in the same spot every night.

Her rice cooker is to her left, along with the hot air fryer - the healthier alternative to the deep fryer - which churns out fried chicken.

She has a dining room table, and chairs. But the table appears more useful for keeping things off the floor.

The 47-year-old lives a meagre lifestyle in her Fairfield house, which she shares with her eldest son, 28.

She doesn't appear to be living the high life. So what she has done with $224,961 in illegally obtained Ministry of Social Development benefit payments is unclear.

Ly now has the dubious distinction of being Waikato's worst benefit fraudster after not declaring that she was living with her partner over 12 years to November 2013.

Ly is upfront about her offending - she pleaded guilty to six fraud-related charges in the Hamilton District Court this month.

She told the Waikato Times this week that she knew it was wrong but it was simply a case of trying to get by; pay the bills and feed her children and partner, who she said did not contribute to living costs.

Ly was 27 when she and her now ex-husband and three children arrived in New Zealand as refugees from Cambodia.

The couple broke up not long after settling and she later met her current partner of 12 years. He is the father of their daughter.

Ly said her relationship with her partner, who has since moved out, has been on and off and at one stage he spent two years living in Auckland.

She claimed that although he had a job, he spent all his earnings at the casino rather than helping with bills.

Ly said she was thrifty with the benefit money and travelled to Auckland to buy her supplies of oil, sugar and rice in bulk, 20kg bags.

When the Times knocked on her door, she was sitting on the floor eating her dinner - a few boiled eggs to go with her hot-air fried chicken wings and sauce, placed on top of newspaper which was spread out on the carpet.

Her surrounds aren't flash. Ly said she hadn't made any extravagant purchases but admits buying a new cellphone and 32-inch television for the lounge.

She said she'll accept whatever sentence she gets in August, but is hoping she won't be jailed.

This week she started a new job picking berries to help pay the taxpayer back, at $32 a week. It's not a lot, but she's remorseful and wants to start the reparation process.

Ly surpasses Cambridge woman Raewyn Gail Dudeck, also known as Raewyn Cartwright, Fox and Gillies, who last year was sentenced to the maximum 12 months' home detention for fraudulently obtaining $194,106 by claiming multiple benefits over 10 years.

Ly has been one of five significant cases of benefit fraud involving Waikato women over the past month - four of them didn't tell the ministry they'd been living with someone.

Morrinsville woman Angela Kathleen Cox, 39, was sentenced by Judge Barney Thomas to 10 months' home detention plus 300 hours of community work in Morrinsville District Court after admitting 11 charges of using a document and one of obtaining by deception between September 30, 2004 and February 19, 2012.

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Cox received an extra $132,230 by lying to authorities that she was single.

Cox got married to Brett Burr on September 30, 2004 and her deceit wasn't uncovered until February 19, 2012.

Suzanne Mary Cook of Kihikihi was paid more than $100,000 in extra domestic purposes benefit alone over a sporadic 10-year period. The 53-year-old also received $19,000 in other supplements and allowances. Cook was sporadically with her partner throughout her offending. When questioned by the ministry she said she was aware of her obligations but didn't disclose it "because it wasn't a real relationship".

She will be sentenced in Te Awamutu in July on the same day as Susan Jane Prebble.

Prebble, 41, also received a variety of benefits and allowances, mainly the unemployment benefit, before racking up more than $70,000 in overpaid benefits over six years.

Prebble also didn't tell the ministry that she married her partner in 2006.

Noeuk Lork, also from Cambodia, was found guilty on nine charges of using a document and obtaining by deception after a drawn-out judge-alone trial spanning more than six months.

Lork and her ex-husband, Reang Chae, also known as Reang Lork, got jobs picking fruit at Strawberry Fields.

The fraud wasn't picked up as Noeuk Lork deposited their wages into two bank accounts in the name of their two sons. Chae pleaded guilty, but Lork's defence was that she didn't understand her obligations because of language barriers and translation issues.

She was convicted and sentenced to 12 months' home detention.

NEW LAW TO TARGET PARTNERS

Partners of people suspected of benefit fraud will also now face charges as new legislation comes into force next month.

Courts and Associate Minister of Social Development Chester Borrows said it won't be just women, or those who have signed up for a benefit, that will face charges if suspected of benefit fraud, but also their partners as new legislation comes into effect next month.

The Social Security (Fraud Measures and Debt Recovery) Amendment Bill now makes spouses and partners of beneficiaries accountable.

"Why is it accepted, usually by the woman, to carry all the criminal responsibility . . . spouses and partners will be jointly responsible for the debt if they knew about the fraud, or turned a blind eye to fraud occurring in their own home."

Previously, only the person who had "signed the dotted line" with the ministry could be charged, unless the partner also falsely signed documents.

A "ridiculous policy" that meant the ministry had to send a letter in writing to a suspected benefit fraudster stating that they were about to commence an investigation had also been culled, he said.

Borrows likened it to police alerting a suspected drug manufacturer that they were going to carry out a search warrant.

Ministry of Social Development statistics show that the number of prosecutions brought against people in Hamilton, Tokoroa, Morrinsville and Waihi over the past two years had dropped markedly, compared to 2011-12.

When questioned about the drop, Borrows said the overall value of the crime was still roughly the same and they were concentrating on getting the taxpayer's money back instead.

"The value of the crime is staying the same . . . but the numbers have gone down so we're concentrating on the worst offenders and concentrating on getting the money back."

Borrows said it was about "shooting where the ducks are, really".

As for why a lot of convicted benefit fraudsters were not jailed, Borrows said only people who posed a threat to society were put behind bars.

That meant they could pay the costs of their own sentence, accommodation and food, instead of the taxpayer forking out $93,000 per prisoner a year.

Borrows urged anyone unsure about whether they were committing benefit fraud to contact the ministry. "They should think about that and come and see us before we see them. They will always score brownie points for notifying the Ministry of Social Development."

belinda.feek@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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