Woman avoids prison over welfare fraud

By Sandra Conchie

A Pyes Pa woman who stole over $67,000 in welfare benefits by deliberately lying that she was separated from her husband has been sentenced to seven months of home detention.

Karen Lorraine Gunfield, 22, pleaded guilty to nine benefit fraud charges in Tauranga District Court yesterday. She was also sentenced to 150 hours of community work.

Gunfield admitted four charges of dishonestly using a document for pecuniary advantage, three charges of obtaining by deception and two charges of wilful omission. The charges relate to Gunfield deliberately lying on applications for an unemployment benefit. She claimed she was living apart from her husband. Between March 18, 2002, and August 14, 2011, she received $67,223.40 in payments she was not entitled to.

Gunfield told Work and Income she did not advise her true situation because she and her husband were struggling financially. The extra money was spent on bills. She had already started to repay the debt from her benefit. The Ministry of Social Development sought a prison sentence but Gunfield's lawyer Glenn Barnett argued for home detention. Mr Barnett opposed the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend's request to take an in-court photograph of his client, citing what he said were his client's psychological and serious heart problems.

Judge Ian Thomas, who declined the media application, said Gunfield had "used the system" to assist her and her family due to a lack of budgeting. Medical issues and personal difficulties did not excuse her offending.

However, Judge Thomas said given Gunfield's lack of prior convictions, her remorse and health difficulties, he was able to impose a sentence of home detention.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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