Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

'Appalling' charity scammer with 613 previous convictions caught again

Gwenda Bush has amassed more than 600 convictions over 40 years. Photo / Doug Sherring
Gwenda Bush has amassed more than 600 convictions over 40 years. Photo / Doug Sherring

This is Gwenda Christine Bush, one of New Zealand's most prolific fraudsters.

During the past 40 years she has amassed more than 600 dishonesty convictions, filling 57 pages of a court file, for using fabricated sob stories to rip off charities.

Yesterday, she was sentenced to 12 months' home detention for her latest scam - a 12-year rort where she obtained almost $6000 in food parcels, furniture and other assistance from the Salvation Army.

The Herald can now reveal details of the 63-year-old's life of crime and, supported by Judge Jonathan Down in a bid to protect the public from being conned by Bush in future, publish her photograph.

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"This is a woman who has the most appalling record of dishonesty offending I have ever seen. I think it is in the public interest that her image is published," Judge Down said.

Her demeanour and appearance - that of a well-groomed, older woman - made it easy for her to scam trusting people.

"It seems that most of your adult life has been punctuated by trips to prison, and funded by dishonest behaviour and conduct," Judge Down said.

"To look at you now, one wouldn't even begin to believe that this is your history. I had to take a double look at this list of convictions because I was so shocked by the contrast between what I see and what I read."

Bush, who lives in Sunnynook, was sentenced in the North Shore District Court yesterday after admitting two charges of obtaining by deception.

The offending started in 2002 and ended only when Bush was arrested in 2014.

Bush would contact the Salvation Army and, using various fictitious stories and identification and aliases, obtain handouts.

In the entire ten years that I've been a police officer, this is the most abhorrent type of fraud that I've investigated.
Detective Kellie Osborne

Among the names she assumed were Barbara Kaihe, Gwenda Wright, Gwen Bush-Rose, Linda Wright, Gwen Hendry, Gweneth Henry and Lynn Stevens.

She was even given $300 of a staff member's personal money after convincing the woman she had cancer and the only treatment option was a new drug that cost $3000 up front and then $1500 monthly.

In August 2014, a staff member became suspicious of Bush and police were called.

Police investigated and confirmed there were no domestic violence reports involving Bush or any of her aliases and that she does not and has never had cancer nor received any treatment for cancer.

When interviewed, Bush told police she lied about details "to get the goods and food from Salvation Army".

In total Bush was given $5936 worth of food and goods.

Yesterday Gwenda was sentenced to 12 months' home detention for her latest scam. Photo / Doug Sherring
Yesterday Gwenda was sentenced to 12 months' home detention for her latest scam. Photo / Doug Sherring

Detective Kellie Osborne, the officer in charge of the investigation, spoke to the Herald after sentencing yesterday.

"In the entire 10 years that I've been a police officer, this is the most abhorrent type of fraud that I've investigated," Detective Osborne said. "The Salvation Army relies on the generosity of the public, they offer amazing help to people who are in genuine and desperate need.

"Bush has totally exploited the kindness, concern and care of their staff."

The Salvation Army did not want to comment on Bush's offending or the impact on its staff - most of who were volunteers.

"The web of lies she built over many years has deeply affected all of the staff who tried to help her," Detective Osborne said. "Her lies were appalling and she has done a disservice to the many genuine people who need help from organisations like the Salvation Army.

In court yesterday police described Bush as a "career criminal" whose offending was premeditated, well planned and without remorse.

They sought a sentence of between 18 and 20 months' jail.

Her lies were appalling and she has done a disservice to the many genuine people who need help from organisations like the Salvation Army.
Detective Kellie Osborne

Bush's lawyer, Helen Pryde, urged Judge Down to sentence the fraudster to home detention.

She said Bush had health issues, including needing heart surgery to treat angina and an operation on an ankle injured in a car accident.

Ms Pryde had a letter of support from pastor Fred Needham from the Assembly of God Church in Glenfield. Bush joined the congregation after her arrest and had "confessed her history and her previous lies".

Mr Needham, who was also in court yesterday, believed if Bush continued her relationship with the church she could live a crime-free life.

Judge Down said Bush's relationship with the church did not fill him with "great confidence". In fact, it caused him great concern.

"It seems to me to be yet another example of a long life of dishonesty.

"It seems to be very likely that you have gone through the process of [joining the church] for the purpose of convincing the court that you have changed and you can be trusted. I find that very difficult to accept."

(You have) 57 pages of convictions, mostly for dishonesty... the worst list of previous convictions I have ever seen in 35 years in the criminal justice system.
Judge Jonathan Down

Judge Down said Bush's criminal history was "appalling". "[You have] 57 pages of convictions, mostly for dishonesty ... the worst list of previous convictions I have ever seen in 35 years in the criminal justice system."

He said Bush, who has two children, started offending in the 70s.

Judge Down considered sending Bush back to prison, but noted none of her earlier lags had made a difference to her offending.

He did not know if there was any point in sending her again and thought the restrictions of home detention, which she had not served before, might be more beneficial.

"Someone who is such a repeat and recidivist offender cannot really expect any less than imprisonment.

"But on the other hand, she has been sent to prison so many times in the past it hasn't made any difference," the judge said.

He sentenced Bush to 12 months' home detention followed by six months of special conditions. "However, if you breach it or you commit further offending during home detention or post-detention conditions you will be brought back to court and you will be resentenced to a term of imprisonment."

Tall tales

Among the stories Gwenda Christine Bush told staff - all of which were fictitious:
• She was fleeing a violent marriage.
• She was in hiding from her violent partner.
• She had just been discharged from hospital after her ex-husband beat her.
• Her ex-husband had burned all of her clothes.
• The water mains had broken at her flat and she had no food or water.
• She had no money for Christmas food and presents for her family.
• She had cancer.
• Her phone was stolen from hospital while she was having cancer treatment.
• Her grandson was turning 7 and she could not afford gifts.
• Her neighbour was breaking in and stealing her food.
• She needed to help a friend who had cancer.
• Her grandson had a heart condition.Her grandson was on life support.
• Her grandson had died.

- NZ Herald

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