A woman wept quietly in the dock at Whanganui District Court as she was sentenced to six months' home detention for benefit fraud on Friday.

Cheri Anne Mathews Patea had pleaded guilty on July 5 to 16 charges. One was of wilful omission and the other 15 were of dishonestly using a document.

Her lawyer Richard Leith said she had been in a relationship with Antony Patea and they had children together. Then they separated, and had gradually got back together, sometimes living together and sometimes living apart.

They reconciled in 2004, and were now married.


Since 2004 Mathews Patea has been given $91,847.08 in benefits she was not entitled to, the Ministry of Social Development said.

The Whanganui woman had no previous history of dishonesty and was at low risk of re-offending. She had surgery recently, was wearing an arm brace and could not do community work. Prison is one possible sentence for benefit fraud, but Mr Leith said home detention would be the least restrictive penalty.

Judge Large said benefit fraud was too common. It was very easy because government departments relied on the honesty of people making declarations.

"It was a small amount of money to you each week, but it was money not available for other uses, such as hospitals."

He noted no reparation was sought, and said while on home detention for six months Mathews would undertake programmes seeking to get work and learning how to budget.

The start of her sentence was postponed until October 4, to allow her to attend a family tangi. Ministry of Social Development prosecutor Hilary McKenna had no objection to the sentence of home detention or to its delayed start.