It is reported that 35-year-old mother, Melka Krunes from Townsville has managed to get her hands on a total of $26,018 over a period of almost 7-years from the commonwealth entity, Centrelink.
The financial advantage she received by providing incorrect information to Centrelink occurred from 2011 to 2017.
During that period, she had made 156 incorrect reports to the government agency.
She made incorrect declarations as to her income, stating that on at least 16 occasions she was receiving no income.
The real situation was, that she was in fact working for at least 4 employers at the same time she was receiving those benefits from Centrelink.
How did this all come to light? The Australian Tax Office (ATO) collaborate with government agencies such as Centrelink.
It wasn’t until the ATO had noticed her dishonesty in May 2016 that this was brought to light and reported the Centrelink.
She was charged before appearing at the Townsville Magistrates Court (https://7news.com.au/business/money/mum-who-rorted-more-than-26000-from-centrelink-sentenced-c-704409) last week Thursday when entered pleas of ‘guilty’ to the charges.
The court was told that she repaid the amount she had dishonestly taken from Centrelink and requested to not be sentenced to a full-time jail term because she needed to be available in the community in order to continue caring for her mother and daughter who both suffer from chronic depression.
Despite Krunes’ plea and circumstances, Magistrate Viviana Keegan sentenced the mother to 9-months full-time imprisonment with a non-parole period of 3-months (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8009063/Fraudster-mum-rorted-26-000-Centrelink-jailed-nine-months.html) and a $2,000 fine.
Magistrate Keegan said, “You’re stealing from every taxpayer in the country and diverting resources away from people that genuinely need them.”
Law, Penalties and Defences for Centrelink Charges (https://www.criminaldefencelawyers.com.au/criminal-law/offences/fraud-charges/centrelink-fraud/)
The two main types of Centrelink offences committed across our nation under the Criminal Code Act (Clth) are:
- Section 134.2 (https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2019C00043) of Obtaining Financial Advantage by Deception from Centrelink; and
- Section 135.2 of Obtaining Financial Advantage from Centrelink (without the requirement for there to be a deception).
A person who obtains a financial advantage by deception from Centrelink (under section 134.2) will be faced with a maximum penalty of up to 10-years imprisonment.
There is a maximum penalty of 12-months imprisonment for obtaining a financial advantage from Centrelink where deception is not required as part of the offence (under section 135.2).
What does the Prosecution need to prove in order for a person to be found ‘guilty’ in court for these charges?
As for section 134.2, the offence of obtaining financial advantage by deception charge, the prosecution, usually the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, must prove each of the following elements beyond reasonable doubt in court:
- The accused person was “deceptive”. i.e. providing incorrect information to Centrelink.
- A financial advantage resulted in favour of the accused person as a result of that deception.
- The financial advantage came from Centrelink.
- In accordance with the standards of ordinary people, such deception was dishonest.
- The accused person at the time of committing the deceptive conduct was at least aware that there was a substantial risk of gaining a financial advantage, and it was inexcusable to take such a risk.
As for section 135.2 (http://www6.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/legis/cth/consol_act/cca1995115/sch1.html), the offence of obtaining financial advantage from Centrelink, the prosecution, usually the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, must prove each of the following elements beyond reasonable doubt in court:
- The accused person caused him/her to receive a financial advantage.
- The accused person was aware that he/she wasn’t eligible or entitled to that financial advantage.
- That financial advantage came from Centrelink.
By the time a person gets charged with Centrelink fraud, there usually is sufficient evidence to prosecute. However, in some cases, there isn’t. below is an outline as to some of the defences to a Centrelink charge in Australia.
Defences to a Charge of Centrelink Fraud (https://www.criminaldefencelawyers.com.au/blog/the-law-on-centrelink-fraud/)
A person charged with Centrelink fraud offences will be ‘not guilty’ if any one or more of the following defences apply:
- Mistake defence: This is where the accused person had simply made a genuine innocent or reasonable mistake in circumstances that led him/her to hold an honest belief leading to the mistake.
- Necessity or Duress: This is when the accused person committed the offence due to a duress or necessity.
- Mental illness defences: This is when the accused person at the time of the crime was labouring under a mental illness that contributed to him/her from being able to understand or realise the nature of his/her offending conduct.
- Under age: This is when the accused person was aged under 10 at the time of the alleged offence(s). Or, if the accused was aged between 10 -14, the accused person wasn’t aware that what he/she did was wrong.
Centrelink fraud offences, although are taken seriously carrying heavy maximum penalties including jail time, it does not necessarily result in a person always going to jail.
The law provides for alternative sentencing options, other than full-time jail. An alternative jail sentence option for a court includes Intensive Correction Order (ICO), which includes a criminal conviction, imprisonment (although the person does not go to jail), with conditions available for a court to impose in order to try to address the main reasons why the offend committed the offence.
As a general rule, the longer the offence has occurred for and the greater the amount of financial advantage, the more inclined a court will be in considering full-time jail. Other factors are relevant in deciding on the sentence, including the extent of sophistication, mental health, family dependants and whether the funds have been paid back, or partly paid back by the time the matter is heard in court.
For more information on Centrelink fraud, contact our Sydney based criminal lawyers (https://www.criminaldefencelawyers.com.au/) today to arrange a free consultation.