A 22-year-old who cheated an elderly woman out of $75,547 asked for a jail term as her punishment – and she got it.
“I think she’s realistic about that,” said Christchurch District Court Judge Gary MacAskill when the fraudster’s defence counsel, Josh Lucas, outlined her views at the sentencing.
Mr Lucas said Ngahemo Wells asked for a jail term because she had found that her time in custody on remand had provided stability, and she felt she would fail at home detention because of outstanding issues about her alcohol use.
Wells also thought someone who committed the type of offending she had committed ought to be sent to prison.
The name of the victim, who was a 77-year-old widow doing volunteer work when Wells met her, has been suppressed.
The woman’s victim impact statement was read in court by her daughter. The victim said the family had been shocked to learn of the losses and they had questioned her ability to live independently. The losses amounted to half her retirement savings. She said she had offered help in response to Wells’ lies and scams.
The family said Wells had manipulated the mother to “live a lifestyle without any hard work”. The said: “You have very nearly destroyed our mother.”
Wells initially asked for her help to pay for groceries and increased rent, but then went on to ask for help with funeral expenses for friends who had committed suicide, or loans for surgeries for family members. When the woman refused any further money, Wells texted threats to harm herself.
In fact, the 21-year-old Wells was spending the money on lots of alcohol, clothing, make-up, concerts, accommodation, and flights. Mr Lucas said she bought someone a car, “in a desire to be liked”.
The money was handed over as cash or bank transfers in 22 transactions over a two-month period, but Wells pleaded guilty to one representative charge of obtaining by deception, covering all of it.
Judge MacAskill said reports showed there was no mental illness, though Wells suffered from anxiety and depression. She had been involved with mental health services in crisis situations.
“You said the money gave you your freedom, and you were buying friendships, never having had genuine friendships in the past,” he said. “Your main issue is alcohol abuse. The offending was committed for the purpose of spending on alcohol and having a good time. You deliberately exploited the victim for your own ends.”
He jailed Wells for two years with special post-release conditions to undergo treatment or counselling for alcohol and drug use and medical purposes.
He ordered her to pay back $5000 to the victim – as much as she could feasibly be expected to pay – to remind her of the losses she had caused.
That order would not prevent the victim taking civil action to recover the remaining money if she wished, said the judge.