Benefit fraudster's jail term cut

Photo / File
Photo / File

A woman who ripped off Work and Income to the tune of $51,000 has had her 12-month prison term cut by a third by the Court of Appeal.

Rotorua woman Margaret Doreen Heta appealed against her sentence imposed on March 2 in Rotorua District Court for three offences of benefit fraud.

She was tried before Judge James Weir and a jury but pleaded guilty part way through her trial.

The court was told she lived with her partner and their four children and received received welfare benefits totalling nearly $87,000 over five years.

That figure was later reduced to $51,000.

Judge Weir said that Ms Heta's plea had been "very belated" and said she was not entitled to any credit for it.

He considered she showed no remorse, rather, she showed a continuing sense of entitlement.

Judge Weir said he took the view that the material set out in Ms Heta's pre-sentence report, especially, her continuing sense of entitlement, stood in the way of a sentence of home detention.

He concluded that imprisonment was the only sentence able to be imposed.

He took a starting point of 15 months, which he reduced to 12 months to take account of Ms Heta's lack of previous convictions. He was not prepared to give her any discount for her plea.

But in the Court of Appeal, Justice Keane said Judge Weir was fully entitled to take a starting point of 15 months and a three-month discount for her lack of previous convictions, "but she was entitled to two further discounts".

"The Judge should have recognised the difficulty a sentence of imprisonment would cause Ms Heta's two young children, justifying a discount of at least another month.

"The Judge should also have allowed Ms Heta a 25 per cent discount for her plea, almost another three months."

Justice Keane said Ms Heta's sentence ought not to have exceeded eight months' imprisonment.

He said although home detention would have been preferable, a suitable address was not available, leaving the court no option but to quash her original 12-month prison sentence and replace it with eight.

- APNZ

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