Whanganui woman faked paternity documentation to feed gambling addiction

Former Whanganui woman Rayna Waitai outside the Hamilton District Court today before being jailed for defrauding the IRD and Ministry of Social Development. Photo / NZ Herald
Former Whanganui woman Rayna Waitai outside the Hamilton District Court today before being jailed for defrauding the IRD and Ministry of Social Development. Photo / NZ Herald

A Whanganui woman was so ensconced in her gambling addiction that she faked paternity documentation to get Working for Families benefits.

However, Rayna Nicola Huatahi Waitai's fraud didn't last long as the victim started to notice "liable parent contributions" coming out of his pay packet.

It was just one of the many ways Waitai, 41, tried to get extra cash to fund her gambling habit which she told Judge Robert Spear in the Hamilton District Court today she was still struggling to keep under control.

During a period of nearly three years she managed to steal about $41,000 from both the Inland Revenue Department and Ministry for Social Development.

Waitai, daughter of former Whanganui MP Rana Waitai, filed for a number of benefits she wasn't entitled to while on the domestic purposes benefit including claiming that she had care of two of her children when they were living in Australia.

In total she received $28,085.35 from the MSD until she was finally busted in December, 2014.

With her IRD offending, Waitai used other people's names to claim income tax refunds.

But it was the paternity fraud that most disturbed Judge Spear.

"His signature had the appearance of being witnessed by [his] mother," the judge said. "This man suddenly found that his wages were to be deducted with a liable parent contribution and he then had to go through the process of convincing the IRD that this was not correct ... that was eventually determined by handwriting analysis."

Her deception even lead to the court room after she failed to fess up to Judge Spear during a sentence indication in January that she had 25 outstanding Ministry of Social Development charges that were still sitting in the Whanganui District Court.

"What I was not impressed by was the fact we went through the sentencing indication hearing and was not made at all aware of all these social welfare charges."

Judge Spear said the case hinged on whether she should be jailed.

"The real concern I have here is that this was repetitive offending over a period of about three years. There was a significant level of sophistication involved, particularly in relation to the tax charges but also to an extent the rather brazen activity involved in presenting the false paternity."

Aggravating her situation was the fact Waitai committed further IRD frauds while on bail for earlier IRD offending.

Earlier, Waitai's lawyer Jacqui Higgins told Judge Spear that her client had begun to turn her life around since being charged -- she'd moved to Hamilton and got a full-time job with Fulton Hogan as a machine operator and would be able to pay reparation if she didn't get sent to jail.

She was also a mother of four, two of whom were living her, she said, and she had no previous convictions.

"This is a woman who is now 41 so there has been some considerable time of good character. She accepts that she slipped up and puts it down to her gambling habit," Ms Higgins said.

However, Judge Spear said while he appreciated her efforts in turning her life around, he needed to send a strong message to others that the courts won't put up with those who cheat the system.

"I consider that it is necessary to note the seriousness of this offending and to send a proper message of deterrence out not just to you but to others who might consider that the tax system and the benefit system are easy targets and if they get caught ripping it off all that will happen is that they will get community work ... home detention. There must be a deterrent message imposed in this ... particularly for offending as extensive and as sophisticated as this was."

Waitai was sentenced to 18 months' prison.

- NZ Herald

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