Gambler fleeces taxpayer of $85,500

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Hirani Elizabeth Sciascia, a Hawke's Bay women's rugby representative and mother of six, used $85,528 from taxpayers to fund her gambling habit. Photo/ Hawke's Bay Today
Hirani Elizabeth Sciascia, a Hawke's Bay women's rugby representative and mother of six, used $85,528 from taxpayers to fund her gambling habit. Photo/ Hawke's Bay Today

A Hawke's Bay women's rugby representative and mother of six has fleeced $85,528 from taxpayers to fund her gambling habit.

Hirani Elizabeth Sciascia, 30, appeared in Hastings District Court last week and was sentenced to nine months' home detention for benefit fraud spanning seven years.

Her lawyer, Catherine Clarkson, said Sciascia's offending arose only from a need to feed her chronic addiction to gambling.

The illness often meant Sciascia's family had little money for food and rent and the electricity to her home had been disconnected.

On benefit applications, Ms Sciascia had failed to state she was living with her partner.

Since 2003, she received a total overpayment of $85,528 for benefits including domestic purposes, accommodation supplements, special benefit, disability allowance, special needs grants and a training incentive allowance.

Prosecutor Liat Cohen said Ms Clarkson's submission that Sciascia was a good mother was questionable, given her priority was to gamble rather than pay the family's bills.

When investigators interviewed her in June last year, Sciascia said she was aware of her obligations but had not advised of her relationship and living arrangements with her partner.

Despite admitting to investigators she needed the money for gambling she pleaded not guilty to the charges, and lost a two-day defended hearing in July.

While a reparation order was not sought, authorities would recover the full amount of the overpayment directly from Sciascia.

Sciascia, whose children are aged between 14 months and 17 years, is a former Hawke's Bay rugby representative and Western Suburbs club stalwart.

Ministry of Social Development's head of fraud Mike Smith said Sciascia had stolen "from hardworking taxpayers''.

"Ms Sciascia deceived New Zealanders by deliberately lying to the ministry about her relationship in order to get money she wasn't entitled to,'' Mr Smith said.

"I think New Zealanders will feel cheated and insulted by her lack of respect for a system which is set up to help those who genuinely need assistance''.

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