Couple net more than $100k in fraud

BELINDA FEEK
Last updated 05:00 03/02/2014

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A Waikato couple, who lied about their relationship, stole more than $100,000 in welfare benefits from the Ministry of Social Development over seven years.

Maria Ruhi Mathews, of Te Kuiti, and Rodney Allan Geoffrey George, of Hamilton, have a long-distance relationship, with George working in the city. Mathews, 30, is the fulltime mother of their four children.

However, she has a gambling problem.

In sentencing Mathews to 12 months of home detention in the Hamilton District Court, Judge Rosemary Riddell was unimpressed that Mathews had spent a lot of the stolen money on her gambling habit and housie. "It doesn't appear that your family benefited from the extra money coming into your home."

Mathews was first granted a benefit in 2005. She and George, 25, started living together from June 2006. At various stages the pair signed documents and requests for benefits stating they were single. George and Mathews filed a forged tenancy agreement, claiming he had rented a house off her and needed a $500 bond. In total, the pair fraudulently gained $105,219.57.

Mathews' lawyer, Tom Sutcliffe, said his client was still on a benefit and was paying off $3000 in fines, so could pay reparation at only $10 per week.

Judge Riddell commented that this amount was "never going to make a dent in this is it", with Mr Sutcliffe agreeing.

Mathews accepted she was the lead offender, with 17 charges, while George admitted seven, which included forgery, using a document for pecuniary advantage and obtaining by deception.

George was in fulltime employment and keen to retain his job, however a prison sentence or home detention would put his job options in danger.

Judge Riddell accepted that neither of those sentences would benefit the family or his ability to pay back the money.

However, she told the pair that did not mean they were any less culpable.

"There are some aggravating features, firstly the large amount of money which you cheated the ministry out of - $100,000.

"This was not spur of the moment, it was over a long period, some six years and nine months.

"You breached the trust of a government body which provides [people] with money when they are in need."

Mathews had previous convictions for dishonesty while George had none.

Judge Riddell said a message had to be sent to the community that fraud would not be tolerated, while taking into account the family's circumstances.

Mathews was convicted and sentenced to 12 months of home detention - the maximum - and ordered to attend budgeting and gambling counselling.

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George was convicted and sentenced to six months of community detention and 200 hours of community work, and was ordered to pay back the money at $25 per week.

- Waikato Times

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