Benefit spent on 'good times'

By Edward Rooney

Ministry nabs people fraudulently claiming DPB.

For nine years Sonny Moore claimed nearly $136,000 in benefits for a child that was not living with him.

When the law caught up with the 45-year-old last week, he admitted he'd spent the money on having a good time.

Moore is one of a diminishing number of beneficiaries being prosecuted for their fraud - but some of the sums they are caught stealing are eyewateringly big. Among those nabbed for fraud in the past year were nine Ministry of Social Development staff, who were all sacked.

In March, 82-year-old Colin Diedrichs admitted using the identities of dead children to apply for government benefits, hiding the money in 29 bank accounts. He was sentenced to more than three years in prison for amassing $447,000 over 22 years.

In Wellington District Court, Sonny Moore was convicted of fraudulently taking $135,744 in benefits since October 1993.

Moore had been granted a Domestic Purposes Benefit in 1996. But the Ministry of Social Development learned Moore's child had not been living with him since April 2000. The ministry also discovered Moore was working for five years while getting the DPB.

Moore admitted he'd continued to claim the benefit to pay for drugs and "the high life".

At his sentencing last week, Moore received six months community detention and 200 hours community work.

His offending doesn't even come close to the biggest benefit fraud: Wayne Patterson was caught in 2006 after he used 123 fake identities to steal $3.4 million over two years. He was jailed for eight years.

The ministry's focus on prosecuting alleged fraudsters is intended to deter other beneficiaries.

That is because some, like Tauranga's Lauren Kaney, have flaunted their ill-gotten benefits. The 22-year-old collected $480 a week in benefits as a solo mum, despite living with the father of her 2-year-old son. Investigators discovered the truth on her Bebo and Facebook pages, along with photos of her brandishing wads of cash.

Ministry fraud boss Mike Smith said people needed to know there was a division set up to investigate potential cases of fraud.

"It's disappointing that someone would use their own children as a way to get money they're not entitled to - but Sonny Moore did just that," Smith said. "His selfish actions speak for themselves."

Smith said the money Moore kept could have gone to people and communities who genuinely needed it. "We're now taking that money back - and will continue to pursue this money for as long as it takes."

- Herald on Sunday

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