Eighty-three-year-old Eileen Marie Farquer fleeced the system for quarter of a century, pocketing almost $215,000 in benefit payments.
The frail-looking Te Puke pensioner managed to hide her offending for more than 25 years but her dark secret was finally uncovered after she drove into the path of a fully laden fuel tanker in March and ended up in hospital with serious injuries.
Farquer hobbled into the Tauranga District Court on Friday with the aid of a walking stick to be sentenced on five benefit fraud charges. She appeared bewildered and confused.
Farquer had earlier pleaded guilty to one charge each of making a false statement and obtaining by deception and three charges of dishonestly using a document.
Partially deaf, she needed special headphones to listen to Judge Christopher Harding and was given permission to sit in the witness box beside him rather than in the dock.
According to court documents, Farquer used the name Lee J. Strauss in 1987 to get an unemployment benefit, and continued to receive benefits in that name until June 3 - a period of 25 years.
A year later she used her real name to get another unemployment benefit which she received until December 10, 1993, when she was granted superannuation.
During that time she also filed two income review forms and an emergency benefit application using her fake identity.
As result of the car crash south of Te Puke on March 30, police received information that Farquer was receiving two benefits. On May 24 police searched her Tauranga Hospital bedroom, her site at Bledisloe Caravan Park in Little Waihi and a storage unit in Papamoa.
During those searches police found and seized documents in her true and fake identities.
When interviewed by the Social Development Ministry on July 19 Farquer admitted she knew what she was doing was wrong, and had used the extra money to live and pay debt.
Farquer was overpaid $214,780.88 between April 21, 1987 and June 3 this year that she has arranged to pay back at $10.50 a week.
The ministry opposed home detention, arguing it was an inadequate response.
But Farquer's lawyer Cate Andersen told Judge Harding her client was remorseful and had offered to pay all the money back.
Judge Harding told Farquer he had read medical reports that detailed her health difficulties, including her ongoing needs as result of the crash.
"In all the circumstances I am prepared to exercise my prerogative and show you the mercy of the court and you will instead be sentenced to 12 months' home detention," he said.
Outside court Farquer, who was assisted from the courthouse by her supporters into a waiting car parked close to the back door, declined to comment.
None of her supporters would comment either.
Iona Holsted, deputy chief executive Ministry of Social Development, said Farquer had deliberately and systematically stolen from taxpayers for 25 years.
"We know that most of our clients are honest and meet their obligations, but when we find people who cheat our system we will prosecute them.
"Age is no barrier to us prosecuting those people who go out of their way to rort the welfare system," Ms Holsted said.
"We have started to recover the money that Eileen Farquer stole from us, and will continue for as long as it takes."
For more articles from this region, go to Bay of Plenty Times