Food voucher fraud ‘mean offending’

The actions of a Cromwell builder who fraudulently claimed $1600 in Covid-19 welfare food vouchers has been described as "mean" and "despicable" by a district court judge.

Jeffrey Pinlac Santos (30), who is from the Philippines and in New Zealand on a sponsored working visa, appeared this week in the Alexandra District Court on a representative charge of using a document for pecuniary advantage.

The charge related to four separate occasions between April 8 and 24 when Santos obtained $400 food vouchers from the Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) welfare package, which was made available to people who did not qualify for government subsidies.

Three categories of vouchers were available based on the applicant’s needs: $100 for one person, $200 for a couple, and a family was eligible for a $400 voucher.

The scheme was supposed to be a one-off and to qualify, an applicant needed to be living in the Queenstown Lakes District.

Santos initially applied to the council on April 8 and completed the online form using his Cromwell address.

He was subsequently told he was not eligible, as he did not live in the Queenstown Lakes District, and was directed to apply to the Central Otago District Council’s welfare assistance scheme.

He completed the online form on April 9 and subsequently received a $150 food voucher.

However, the same day, he again applied to the QLDC, listing his home address as being in Queenstown.

The QLDC issued him with a $400 voucher for New World Wakatipu. During, and in breach of , the Alert Level 4 lockdown, he travelled to redeem it.

On April 16, he used another false address to apply online again.

When prompted to answer "have you filled out the form before?", Santos answered "no".

He then received a second $400 voucher.

He again breached lockdown to redeem it.

He would follow the same pattern on April 22 and 23, again receiving vouchers and again breaching lockdown travel restrictions to use them.

In total, Santos received $1600 from the QLDC he was not eligible for.

Defence counsel Paige Noorland said the offending was "opportunistic" and Santos was suffering genuine hardship, but he was in a position to pay $1000 in reparation up front.

"He was struggling to feed his family."

Judge Jim Large had a different take and described it as "mean offending".

"I think it’s quite despicable.

"You might have have had a need but it could have been dealt with in an honest way."

Judge Large sentenced Santos to 150 hours’ community work, accepted his upfront payment of $1000 and ordered him to pay the remaining $600 in reparation at a rate of $100 per week.




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