71-year-old woman cites former husband’s role in welfare fraud

A 71-year-old woman jailed for $347,000 of welfare fraud claims she was subject to domestic violence and her former husband was the one who had used the money.

Defence counsel Linda Drummond said police records showed domestic violence call-outs to the household of Pauline Urana Lowen and her former husband.

She told Judge John Macdonald at the Christchurch District Court sentencing: “Notwithstanding that she was signing the documents and providing them to the Ministry of Social Development, she was not the one who in the end had control of the money. She was financially controlled by her husband and he was the one who used it.”

Lowen, also known as Mundy and Williams – pleaded guilty to five charges last year. Two were representative charges covering dozens of individual offences stretching over nearly 20 years.

She had received benefits but did not tell the MSD of changes in her circumstances relating to her relationship status – she lived in a marriage-type relationship and then got married – nor about getting work for the Canterbury District Health Board in 2008.

She was not detected by data matching because she was working under a different IRD number than the one she used for benefit purposes. She also gave a different birth date.

She submitted 49 forms to the MSD over 20 years that contained false details about her relationship status, her work, and her income and assets.

Since her arrest, the Ministry has seized the couple’s property and sold it for a return of $154,000. The former husband was also assessed as having a debt to the Ministry but some of the proceeds of the sale would go towards Lowen’s reparations.

The prosecution said the Ministry believed the former husband was not directly involved and he had not been charged with the welfare frauds.

The Ministry said domestic violence could be taken into account where the abuse impacted on the offending, but Lowen had not provided any evidence that violence or abuse had materially contributed to the offending.

Judge Macdonald noted that the former husband had not been charged, and had no chance to reply to the allegations. He told Lowen: “I am hesitant to make any allowance for the role your former partner may or may not have played in the offending.”

After making allowances for the money recovered for the sale of the property, and Lowen’s age and failing health, he jailed her for two years three months, which was outside the range where home detention could be considered.