Woman jailed for $355,000 benefit frauds

November 25, 2016 | By More

Court House-doorwayA woman who dishonestly received benefits totalling over $355,000 was jailed for more than three years in the Christchurch District Court today.

Defence counsel Paul Johnson said 68-year-old Diane May Pihama had cancer, but the prognosis wasn’t bad. He said she had offended for over 20 years, but did not have a flamboyant lifestyle. Pihama told him that 90 percent of the funds were sent overseas.

Jennifer North, representing the Ministry of Social Development, said there was no evidence in Pihama’s bank statements that she was making payments to a third party.

Judge Tom Gilbert said Pihama was being sentenced on 29 charges relating to her benefit frauds.

He said she had been on a benefit for most of her life, and during a large part of that period she was receiving multiple benefits.

She was living with her partner since mid-1993, but had not informed the ministry.

In that time she had applied for and received a sickness benefit of $22,923, an invalid’s benefit of $137,030, an accommodation supplement of $11,093, a disability allowance of $36,285, a transport access scheme of $34,965, an Internal Rate of Return subsidy of $106,815, and $6,471 NZ superannuation payments.

Judge Gilbert said it would take 490 years for Pihama to repay the money, and it was effectively a write-off for the taxpayer. He said it was a long term high value fraud against every person in the country, which could quite unfairly tarnish all of the people on benefits.

Pihama had a history of dishonesty offending starting from 1967 when she was 19, he said.

“Whatever use you were putting the money to, it was not your money,” he told her.

He sentenced Pihama to three years’ three months’ in prison.

Pihama was ready for the sentence. She carried her packed bag into court on her mobility walker.

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