Home detention, $10K fine for benefit fraud

Over four years, Angela Rachel Ashton received benefit payments of more than $72,000, all on the basis she was single.

The lie continued and the cash rolled in.

The 42-year-old - now working as a nail technician - appeared in the Dunedin District Court this week after admitting two charges of using a document and one of obtaining by deception.

The web of lies Ashton constructed had innocent beginnings.

She moved into a Dunedin home with a man and his children in October 2012.

The pair were not in a relationship at the time but came to a mutually beneficial arrangement in which Ashton would look after the children while their father was working out of town.

The nature of their bond changed in June 2014.

It was, Ashton later admitted, ''in the nature of a marriage'' and two of her three sons later joined the blended-family home.

In the next four years, the defendant attended several meetings and lodged forms with the Ministry of Social Development confirming she was single.

When Ashton's sons moved out of the home, the ministry received information about the illegal activity.

At an interview, she admitted the extent of the relationship and ''acknowledged what she did was fraudulent''.

''In explanation she stated that she saw it as her responsibility, and not that of her partner, to provide for herself and her children; and that at the time she was unable to find suitable flexible employment,'' court documents said.

Counsel Brendan Stephenson said his client ''got caught in a cycle''.

''She wanted to stop but built a lifestyle around the payments she was getting. Found it difficult to come forward and bring everything to an end,'' he said.

Judge Kevin Phillips suggested the only motive for the offending was greed but Mr Stephenson stressed his client was not stealing to support a lavish lifestyle.

''She wasn't going out gambling or buying material goods.''

While he stressed Ashton was remorseful, ministry prosecutor Milton Sperring said that was not apparent in a letter the woman had written to the court.

In it, she wrote: ''in the eyes of the law I was in a relationship''.

Mr Sperring emphasised there was nothing technical about the case - Ashton had admitted having a de facto partner and had lied to the state.

The court heard her partner was not criminally but civilly liable and, like the defendant, was contributing $50 a week for the repayment of the funds.

Judge Phillips said there was no chance the debt would be settled in totality.

He ordered Ashton to repay $10,000, and sentenced her to seven months' home detention along with 300 hours' community work.


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