Woman Defrauded Centrelink Over $200,000 In Payments

, Woman Defrauded Centrelink Over 0,000 In Payments

Woman Defrauded Centrelink Over $200,000 In Payments

A woman will be sentenced in the District Court of NSW in September over fraudulently receiving more than $200,000 in Centrelink payments after her baby died.

THE STORY

Alison Christie Mains is awaiting sentence in September after pleading guilty to three counts each of obtaining financial advantage by deception and defrauding the Commonwealth. The 41-year-old woman claimed Centrelink parenting payments for almost 15 years after her baby died and would dress up a doll and pretend it was her daughter at times. Her barrister Marty Bernhaut said, “the offending began as a result of Ms Mains’ daughter dying in horrific, tragic circumstances, aged five months”. The disabled baby girl died in mid-1998 and the debt was discovered in 2013. Mains claimed $209,114 in payments which she was not entitled to, failed to notify Centrelink of the death of her baby and made false oral representations about her baby still being alive. Overpayments were made of Child Carer Allowance, Parenting Payment Single, and Family Tax Benefit. She reportedly called Centrelink within two months of her baby’s death requesting advance payments, which she did more than a dozen times and approximately every six months. Mains would tell Centrelink that her daughter was in “palliative care that day” or that she had used up her previous payments on medical expenses and costs associated with her child’s neurological dysfunction. All this was said after the baby’s death.

Her barrister Mr Bernhaut submitted on Mains’ behalf that she accepts she was not entitled to the money for her deceased child but that she is illiterate, has never worked, has a background of “significant deprivation” and would have been entitled to $69,696.20 in Newstart allowance during the offending period. Bernhaut engaged a Centrelink investigator, who apparently established that Mains could have received over $189,000 in Disability Support Pension entitlements.

MITIGATING FACTORS ON SENTENCE

Bernhaut addressed the Court saying that Mains was emotionally distraught and in poor physical health at the time of the offending. “It’s patently apparent she deteriorated significantly in the period following her child’s death” said Bernhaut.

The Prosecutor Frank Farah said the best light for the defence case is the possible entitlement to some payment, although the alleged entitlement from Centrelink is “so speculative that you certainly can’t give it a mathematical figure but you can take it into account subjectively”. In Court Farah focused on the fact that the deceptive conduct continued over an extended period of time and was that Mains was conscious of it, stating “she intentionally deceived Centrelink so she could get more money”. Mains has previously spent time in residential rehabilitation for alcohol dependence and looks like she may do so again.

In the facts it was also alleged that Mains had stolen eight bottles of alcohol in 2017; one count of robbery and four counts of larceny will be considered upon sentence.

THE LAW

On the State level, the offence is:

Section 192E of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) – Fraud

  • A person who, by any deception, dishonestly:
  1. Obtains property, belonging to another, or
  2. Obtains any financial advantage or causes any financial disadvantage,

Is guilty of the offence of fraud.

Maximum penalty: imprisonment for 10 years.

This offence is an indictable offence, heard in the higher Courts. In this case, it could not have been heard in the Local Court as the amount the subject of the financial advantage exceeds $100,000.

In addition to the general factors to be considered on sentence, the following factors will often be particularly relevant:

  • The amount of money involved
  • The length of time of the fraud
  • Whether the offender occupied a position of trust when the fraud was committed
  • Whether there was any sophistication in the method employed to defraud
  • The motive behind the offending.

For more on this offence, read our dedicated page.

Read our recent blog post on this ANZ email scam which attracts a charge of fraud.

COMMONWEALTH OFFENCE

When a person commits the offence against the Commonwealth government, the relevant legislation is

Section 134.2 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) (the Criminal Code) – Obtaining a financial advantage by deception

  • A person commits an offence if:
  1. The person, by a deception, dishonestly obtains a financial advantage from another person; and
  2. The other person is a Commonwealth entity.

Penalty: Imprisonment for 10 years.

  • Absolute liability applies to the paragraph (1)(b) element of the offence. This means there is no mental element involved; the fact that the person is a Commonwealth entity proves the element itself.

For more on Commonwealth offences, visit our website. Interestingly, we cover the offence of cyber-crimes against Commonwealth government departments here.

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