Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
A mother from Townsville in Queensland’s north whose son died in a car crash has been charged with fraud after it was discovered she allegedly misused the public funds raised for his funeral on gambling and a shopping spree.
On June 18 2020, Lesley-Lee Hill attended the funeral of her 13-year-old son, Lucius Baira-Hill.
Lucius was one of four teenagers killed when a stolen car slammed into a traffic light pole at Garbutt 11 days prior.
At the funeral, the 28-year-old mother expressed heartfelt words, apologising to her son that she could not be there for him.
“I just want to say I’m sorry Lucius,” she told the service through tears.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you when you needed me.
“But I’m here now.
“You’re the strongest person I’ve ever met in my life.
“I’m sorry Luie.”
To help cover the costs of the funeral, the family of Lucius set up a GoFundMe page.
The crowdfunding campaign attracted 140 people who, in total, raised $6,665 to assist her with paying for the associated expenses.
However, it wasn’t long before it was discovered by police that the woman allegedly blew $3,650 of the funds on herself, including spending on cigarettes and gambling on the pokies.
The mother also invited her sister to join her on a shopping spree.
Ms Hill Faces Court Over Fraud Charges, Weeps and Denies Misusing Her Son’s Funeral Donations
On 8 September, Ms Hill faced Townsville Magistrates Court where she wept and denied any wrongdoing of spending her child’s donated funeral funds.
She was refused bail and remanded in custody at the court after being charged with fraud and breach of bail.
Addressing the matter, police prosecutor Tasman Murphy said the offence went against the grain of society.
“The family members who arranged the funeral said they never received any funds or reimbursement from the defendant,” police prosecutor Tasman Murphy said.
“The nature of this offence appears to go against the grain of society and humanity.
“It’s unconscionable that somebody, namely Lesley-Lee Hill, would spend their child’s generously donated funeral fund on material for her own gain.”
Inside the court, it was also heard Ms Hill was facing other charges associated with dishonestly obtaining Centrelink parenting payments – which attract substantial penalties.
Moreover, she was not following her bail conditions.
Police thus opposed bail, asserting the woman presented an unacceptable risk of failing to appear, committing further offences and interfering with witnesses.
Nevertheless, her lawyer, Victoria Twivey, said her client was still grieving following the loss of her son and disputed the allegations.
“She had no knowledge of this GoFundMe page – she wasn’t a signatory,” Ms Twivey asserted.
A teary Ms Hill she spoke to the Magistrate through the dock and negated the accusations.
“I didn’t do any of that,” she said.
“I’ve complied with all my bail, I’ve done everything I can do right.
“They keep locking me up, Your Honour,”
Ms Hill said she was “traumatised by the system.”
In response, police prosecutor Murphy pushed for her bail to be denied, saying, “Given the public reaction to the already published news stories about this, the safety of the defendant may very well be at risk also, given increased vigilante action”.
Previously, Ms Hill was granted a bail variation after she was released from custody on one count of unlawful use of a motor vehicle.
Her bail was modified to allow her to leave home to attend counselling sessions without her mother.
Police are still investigating what happened to the remaining funeral donations.
They have interviewed some of the people who donated to the online funeral fund who have said they hope their money can be returned to them.
Generally speaking, fraud can be understood as dishonestly obtaining a financial advantage (or property) or causing a financial disadvantage to another through deception, pursuant to section 192E of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
This offence carries up to 10-years imprisonment in addition to a criminal conviction.
“Dishonesty” is judged according to the standard of an ordinary person.
Click here for more details on the penalties, defences and law on Fraud offences in NSW.
Have a question? Call our Sydney or Parramatta criminal lawyers today to arrange a free first consult.