What century are we living in?

By   /   April 6, 2017  /   37 Comments

TDB recommends Voyager - Unlimited internet @home as fast as you can get

I don’t know this woman personally. All I know is that this is a frightening case for its insights into the judicial system.. Shamed for all the world to see in the media, this so called “benefit fraudster has “appealed her sentence in the High Court. Her original sin and conviction was for living with someone that MSD has deemed to be her partner.

I don’t know this woman personally.  All I know is that this is a frightening case for its insights into the judicial system..  Shamed for all the world to see in the media, this so called “benefit fraudster  has “appealed her sentence  in the High Court.  Her original sin and conviction was for living with someone that MSD has deemed  to be her partner.

Between 2007 and 2015, 8 years, she had been on a domestic purposes benefit and received a reduction in rent at a Housing NZ property. The MSD prosecuted her, alleging she was fraudulently paid $126,000 she wasn’t entitled to.  She was jailed for 2 years 1 month.  Yes you read that right. Such a dangerous criminal!

She appealed to the High Court against this excessive sentence and has just had her appeal thrown out and will remain in jail.

Several things are not discussed, either in the Stuff report or in the Napier High Court proceedings but are deeply concerning. Where is investigative journalism when it is needed?

First there is no mention of the partner except that he was on a benefit. This is no sugar daddy case of her taking a sole parent benefit while living it high on the hog with a wealthy partner. He was more likely to be a liability. There is no information about her children, yet she is 45 and being on the DPB must have children. They are clearly not the children of the so called partner.  Who is looking after them while she is in prison? What price will society pay for their distress and the destruction of her family?

Second, while we are told “Based on those assertions the Ministry paid Tawhai $126,000” we don’t know whether this is over and above what she would have been entitled to anyway. Over 8 years this is about $16,000 a year which is around the gross DPB.  Even under the ridiculous lowered benefit rates for couples she would have been entitled to the majority of this especially once entitlement to supplementary assistance is factored in.

Judge Tony Adeane  was asked “to give her more discount for her expression of remorse and the fact she would repay the amount she wrongly received through deductions from her benefit payments.”

Her lawyer argued that if the sentence was reduced by one month Tawhai would have been eligible for home detention instead of prison. In light of her children this would have most certainly been the more humane, if still unjust , outcome.  

The judge sneered at her lawyer wanting to reduce the sentence by just one month  as that would “amount to tinkering with the sentence imposed”.  Yet for her, one month less would make home detention a possibility. Her children are nowhere to be seen in the judge’s thinking.

The case for not reducing the sentence is quite bizarre. Apparently because it would take 80 years at a rate of $30 week from her benefit for total repayment, jail was justified. But MSD will still hound her for repayment of the full amount when she finally gets out. The taxpayer will pay well over $200,000 to keep her in jail for this period to say nothing of the costs of care of any children.

But what really stands out is the judge’s attitude to her remorse.

Tawhai’s expression of remorse appeared to be directed at the situation she found herself in, “namely facing a sentence of imprisonment”.

“It was this prospect that appears to have prompted her feelings of regret and remorse rather than any insight into the harm that her offending has caused,”

Not deep enough?  Not enough tears?  Not showing insights into ‘harm’ to her ‘victims’?  

I dont know this woman or her story but I’d love to hear it. Beneficiaries are on the fringe of society and have to do what they have to do to survive. Were her actions about sheer survival ?  What we do know is that this sentence is beyond belief.

 

***
Want to support this work? Donate today
***
Follow us on Twitter & Facebook
***

About the author

Co-director retirement policy and Research Centre, CPAG management committee

37 Comments

  1. XRAY says:

    It sounds very harsh but as always there may be more than meets the limited reporting. Having said that if she had past history of fraud or previous convictions the media would roll around that like pigs in mud.

    There is no economic sense to this and clearly she was singled out as an example.

    Will they do so with double dipping MP’s too, just for consistency?

    • Susan St John says:

      in what sense though was she double dipping? He was on a benefit so how could he support her and her children?

      • XRAY says:

        I am guessing that when you sign your life away with the MSD the system pays out on the basis of what you tell them. Based on that need the MSD pays out what they considered, in her case, a person on a single income can get by on and not a cent more. Therefore she got a discounted accommodation rate on top of the DPB.

        But when she introduced another income into the house in the form of a partner, she was then in a dual income setting in that house and her accommodation supplement at least should have been reduced, if she so declared.

        In this situation the second party had accommodation either for free which I guess makes his income questionable and him liable but in my view she did not benefit from the relationship or him staying with her. Or he paid rent to the original tenant (her) or at least his income could supplement her, meaning her declaring she was on a fixed single income was not true and she was potentially taking in more money or at least had access to more money. And I bet this is what the MSD either proved or alleged.

        In any case it was the false declarations that were her undoing.

        Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see this sentence as just, based on what we know. Its much like I don’t see it as good with politicians claiming expenses they shouldn’t either but getting a good old telling off and walking away laughing keeping their jobs. Or Apple or Uber or Compass or Google not paying tax either.

        There is simply so few details to go on who really knows what the full story is?

        • Sam Sam says:

          Translation; i have no fucking idea what happened. Just dont touch muh priv(I)lege, and what about muh free gold card?

        • saveNZ says:

          The problem is if she declared him, then she would probably lose her benefit!!

          It’s the legislation that’s at fault here! It should be if the sole parent is getting financial support from a partner they are committing fraud – not just being in a relationship. WINZ should have to prove they benefited and it should be by a reasonable amount – not a few $$$.

          Relationships come and go, it’s completely unworkable to expect someone to give up that just because they are looking after a child. If the government moved towards a model of protecting and valuing children then they would put more value into the parenting side and not into the employment side.

          It doesn’t even work putting them in prison from an employment side as how the hell is that helping them get a job with a criminal record?

          Sadly with all the family violence in this country also some the women are unable to say NO to men and then get violated twice, one by the violent partner that moves in and then again by the government that puts her in prison for having a relationship.

          • Susan St John says:

            Of course on the DPB she is allowed to have a boarder- it is when the boarder becomes more than a boarder the rules on her access to benefit of $326 a week changes to $175. She can barely survive on the $326. His goes from $210 to $175. Deemed to be a couple they are stuffed. But His offending is ‘ less serious’ and he doesnt seem to have been sent to jail.
            Surely declaring they are a couple amounts to a hefty tax on having sex that pushes them and her children into penury- but then the alternative of pretending otherwise sends her to jail even though she has a 17 and 8 year old

        • Chris says:

          “There is simply so few details to go on who really knows what the full story is?”

          Precisely. You took a very long time to get there, but I guess you finally did.

          We don’t even know whether the bloke was living under the same roof as her, let alone whether there was a relationship in the nature of marriage.

          The more likely scenario is that MSD investigators elicited an admission, which they always try to do, with the lure of not going to jail, but which of course didn’t happen here.

          Importantly, when there’s an admission there’s no proper application of the legal test. The investigators don’t convey the proper test (you only need to look at MSD’s pamphlets to see that) so it’s highly likely that the beneficiary is not providing an admission at all.

          What then follows is not only sentencing all out of proportion to the offence, including jail and repayment of large debt because are treated more harshly for benefit fraud than any other kind of fraud, but there’s absolutely no guarantee there’s even been an offence in the first place.

          Truly smashing, ain’t it?

  2. Sam Sam says:

    Judge Tony Adeane -_-

    • saveNZ says:

      Sounds like vicious dogs get a second chance with this judge…

      Maybe he has a problem with women…

      “Even dog lovers will have been surprised by the decision of Judge Tony Adeane to spare the life of a dog that “degloved” a woman in a vicious attack.”

      http://www.nzherald.co.nz/hawkes-bay-today/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503459&objectid=11701909

      • Sam Sam says:

        There has been a number of questionable public prosecutor ect selections over the years. Standards are slipping.

      • Once ......... says:

        “Maybe he has a problem with women…”
        I think he has a problem with his ego and power tripping – but then we can’t say these things or Netsafe might intervene.
        (Everyone else is a facist, just not their ilk).
        Hopefully the CJ has his eyes open.

        Interesting times really. I’m beginning to smell the fear amongst a few of them, but they seem to be doubling down.
        I guess that’s what comes naturally to an ‘elite’ with an over-inflated sense of self-worth, peppered with inherent prejudice and the need for self-preservation on ones poistion.

        None of these cnuts seem to have realised that things can change really fucking rapidly. It amazes me that none appear to have leaned much from history (or in words they’ll understand), they haven’t appraised themselves of the learnings from a(N) historical account going forward – even with the aid of a number of support persons sucking on John and Jane Citizen’s tit.

        As I travelled south today, listening to RNZ and the various local broadcasters, I got some learnings from a few sauces:
        – The Don had launched strikes on Siree (somewhere i ‘spose in the Muddle Ease)
        – Tum Wadkun was now ployed by RNZ (formerly Radio New Zull), on account of his jernlistic tegrity (and probably because he’d run out of places to go, AND he knows one or two in the bubble)
        – Goin (Espinner_ has teamed up with one or two and produced something fairly useful – and to be charitable, something everyone should probably listen to.
        – Then there was Cool Blue 89.6FM Tearpor, audible (THANK FUCKING CHRIST at the time I was passing through) from North of Tearpor and most of the Desert Road. The alternative was some Jessie fawning all over a Phil Koegan strumming and live and offering lyrics such as “I am unremarkable…..” – sure as shit he was.
        – Woi-Ew-Roo, where 567AM Neshnool Radio kicks in again, and back to the Jessie.
        We should probably all be aware that the last of our PSBers is under threat – whether by underfunding, or by crony appointment, or by banning (such as the likes of MB).
        (Actually, I’ve YET to hear any of the remaining journalists (I could name a few), challenge that edict. Maybe even Goin E-spinner could shove his tiny balls where his clipped Te Reo is, as a next project – perhaps on something like a few podcasts on how the The Executive and its subservient Administration puts its views into the Public Sphere and tries to enforce its will..
        I fear a rave coming on – I’m just sick of useless tits masquerading as the voices of reason (many my peers), shovelling complete fucking kaka to the masses.
        Yes, I think their fear is in the wind

  3. saveNZ says:

    Absolutely shocking. What a fucking outrage!! Not just to the poor women but her poor children!!!

    What a terrible judge. Is he getting payments from Serco to keep the prison population high??? It was discovered in the US that judges were actually profiting in some cases from putting people into private prisons as they got kick backs. Hopefully this hasn’t spread to NZ yet, but lets face it, only a matter of time with the Natz.

    Real criminals seem to go free. Raping sports people get off. White collar crimes get reduced sentences but women on the benefit seem to have the book thrown at them and statistically kids are worse off in CYPS care.

    Disgusting!!! I’d also like to hear more about this case and what happened to this poor women and her children.

  4. Mike the Lefty says:

    Funny, when lawyers and white collar geeks get caught ripping off the system they don’t seem to have any trouble getting home detention. I wonder why that is?

    • Susan says:

      Again, is she really ripping of the system? Where is the evidence of the high life? Her partner on a benefit would likely be a drain on her

      • Chris says:

        I think there are two issues going on. The first is that beneficiaries receive harsher penalties including prison sentences for benefit fraud, harsher for example than for tax fraud, which is well documented. For example, the woman in this case was sentenced to over two years for $120k when it generally takes a few hundred thousand to get to that sort of time.

        Secondly, and this is likely to be more the issue here, beneficiaries are convicted for relationship fraud when there’s often been no offence committed, i.e. the investigator has elicited an admission without consideration of the legal test. This second scenario often involves men who come and go, perhaps some or a lot of violence, no financial support, involvement with other partners, but because there may children then all of a sudden it’s a relationship in the nature of marriage, the investigator says plead guilty and you won’t go to jail then the machine takes over.

    • darth smith says:

      look at tax evaders billions nothing happens to them its a class war

      • saveNZ says:

        It’t not a class war, it’s a legislative war.

        Where with a change in wording it means billionaires can legally pay no taxes and someone on $326 p/w with 2 kids is put in prison for fraud.

        Forget about rich and poor and start thinking moral and immoral, because over the years our laws have been changed and justice removed to favour those who have the most, cheat and have money and endless will to litigate.

    • Wensleydale says:

      I think part of it is based on their capacity to make reparation. As a general rule, white collar criminals and other affluent offenders tend to have an ability to make substantial payments by way of reparation, whereas beneficiaries, living on the smell of an oily rag, don’t.

      Personally, I don’t believe it should make one jot of difference. If a wealthy financial advisor and a beneficiary both fraudulently obtained the same amount of money, but one is able to make reparation and the other isn’t, they should receive the same sentence because they committed the same crime. Being flush with cash shouldn’t mean you’re somehow slightly less liable for the consequences of your actions, when those less solvent face the full force of the law — often jail-time.

  5. Waaka Nene Jnr Rountree says:

    It is blatantly clear, that companies and millionaire’s ​are able to dodge the tax system, for millions of dollars, but beneficiary’s​ are the bane of our society ?

    • Sam Sam says:

      Hi Waaka, welcome.

      The wealthy would do that because wealthy people write, or lobby, donate, bribe, what ever the case may be, but wrote the tax code.

      I acually learnt today that I can no longer recieve tax free credits for children in my care. Personally i wouldn’t have writen a tax code that way.

  6. countryboy says:

    How truly awful. In NZ. We should all go to where she’s imprisoned and break her out and have a great big fat fucking riot while we’re at it?
    Then? We could head into town, to the BNZ, and find out just who bailed out who during the feeding frenzy of the 1980’s and ’90’s ? Who made billions ? Was it Fay? Richwhite? Gibb? Hart? Chandler? Etc? Dodgy Roge Douglas? He just reached into our lives and took our stuff and things from us. Those same things $-poorer people find almost impossible to pay for using. Why isn’t that fucker in prison? The Dark Siders? The dodgy Right Wingers with their greasy, dirty little fingers in every pie going.
    A poor woman has a man about for hugs and kisses and ends up spending more than 2 years in prison? Put simply? That’s evil. There’s no amount of money worth that kind of suffering. Our criminal justice system? Warped and buckled to fit the two dimensional right wing agenda and is paid for by us too remember. Our tax money pays them to torture middle aged women for being human. It’s actually too horrendous to dwell upon.

    • Susan St John says:

      you are absolutely right Countryboy. There is no amount of money worth that amount of suffering

  7. Ovicula says:

    This is one more case showing that we need a complete overhaul of our judicial system. Consider where judges come from – they start as law students, who generally come from a well endowed (monetarily at least) segment of society. They then progress to be prosecutors and/or partners in law firms. Once they have a reputation for not rocking the boat, and probably for shouting drinks at the Northern Club, they get assigned to the bench.
    Through all of this, they have almost no contact with ordinary members of society apart from those who appear before them. Their social circles are likely to be largely intellectually challenged out of touch Tories, including their brother judges.
    My solution would be to move to elected sentencing panels, with lawyers present to give advice on the law. It couldn’t be any worse than what we’ve got.

    • Susan St John says:

      You are right. I am constantly shocked at what they say and write in these kinds of cases. They have no idea.

  8. Mike in Auckland says:

    There have been attempts to get figures on the cause of death of people on benefits, from MSD by way of OIA requests. But MSD refuses to give information, saying the cause of death is not recorded in client files. They are happy to close files, as that is a “beneficiary less” that ‘depends’ on the taxpayer, so it is just another ‘exit’, kind of.

    That is how they operate, and they apparently have no mercy, when they consider a person “cheats” or “defrauds” them, rightly or wrongly, then they expect monies to be paid back, even under Dickensian kind of conditions.

    Most people have little or no time for those on benefits, the MSM with their bias, have seen to it, serving the mean spirited politicians in government, to justify endless crack downs and further restrictions and personal data gathering.

    Today the unusual occurred, even the usually so timid, tame Privacy Commissioner released a damning report on how MSD gives no regard to the privacy rights of individuals, being their existing or potential clients, needing support from contracted providers.

    I bet that many of our regrettable, sad suicide statistics, they are also clients, that is former clients, of MSD.

    Shame on such a nasty, immoral government department, administered by a hypocritical, cold-hearted, ideologically driven Minister Tolley.

    This case is a disgrace for our country, but it is sadly just the tip of the iceberg, I think.

    • Susan St John says:

      Yes it is the tip pf the iceberg. We thought telling Kathryn’s story might have got some attention.
      http://www.cpag.org.nz/assets/Publications/3-0%20Kathryn%27s%20Story-web.pdf
      But no.

      • Chris says:

        Do you think a change of government would make any difference in this area? Labour voted in 2014 to prosecute partners on the basis of they “ought to have known” about the offending. They’ve got absolutely no idea of what’s happening, that women are being prosecuted when there’s no relationship in the nature of marriage so no offending in the first place. Prosecuting partners because they “ought to have known” there was an offence being committed murks the whole situation up to a point where it becomes hard to clearly articulate the issues let alone fix them. I’d also say that I don’t think Labour really cares less, anyway, because beneficiary issues ain’t vote catchers unless it’s taking a hard line. Cowards.

        • Susan says:

          I don’t see Labour as really strong on this issue and a you say they voted for that terrible 2014 change. In the case detailed in the blog she was said to have owed $125,000 but he was described as having a much lower level of offending owing just 24,000. He doesn’t appear to have gone to jail. MSD logic should say that if they were the couple they say they are he would have benefited equally. Two parents in jail is not the way to go of course.

          • Chris says:

            What got me with the 2014 change was that a person could be criminalised on an “ought to have known” basis, in other words without knowledge. There are of course criminal negligence offences such as those involving obligations relating to other people’s money etc, but the 2014 amendment introduced criminalisation without an opportunity to act in a way that avoids the criminalisation, for example, by making sure investors are fully informed about the companies activities and so on. In the case of criminalising partners the partner has to either dob in the other partner or leave the relationship: that’s the expectation underpinning the offence. This really epitomises what happens when the state starts meddling in the personal relationships of citizens, and shows why there’s no place for marital status in social security.

            • Susan says:

              so true. the ramifications of the should have known criteria make marriage a very dubious place to be. Will wives of high flyers in the financial world who commit fraud be also convicted on these grounds

  9. While the Ministry comes down like a ton of bricks on its clients, it’s just had a ton of bricks fall on it in the form of a Minute from the Social Security Appeals Authority, regarding the Ministry’s practise of using fake names for its Benefit Review Committee members, in direct contradiction of Article 14 of the United Nations Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.
    http://transparencynz.blogspot.co.nz/2017/03/wilful-abuse-of-process-by-ministry-of.html

  10. T Dawg says:

    Benefit bashing is one thing, but this smells of prejudice. My bro and his partner at the time were both convicted of benefit fraud. They both had kids, were in a relationship together, were living together, but were both on DPB. She was even convicted of that relationship and one before it. They both got Home-D. Stayed on the benefit and a little got taken off each week to pay it back…… unlike Mrs Tawhai, they weren’t Maori. Although I’m not surprised about the story above, it still stands out.Also, were MSD the ones who classified the relationship? Did they have actual proof of their relationship? Video footage?

    • Susan St John says:

      Great questions– we need a commission of inquiry. MSD are the ones who determine whether a relationship exists. Women are told to plead guilty to avoid jail and show remorse…in Kathryn’s case she denies adamantly that her so called relationship was any like a relationship in the nature of marriage. She so sent to jail when she had a five year old and has spent the last 17 years fighting MSD taking money out of her invalids benefit to repay as jail does not absolve her of that responsibility. She is now very sick but we have appealed to have it heard in the Supreme Court

  11. PB says:

    Harm her offending has caused??? Because the insane discriminatory bureaucratic rules make her plight that of a fraudster, after reducing the threshold for MSD deciding what a relationship is?

    Riot. Makes me wanna riot.

  12. […] stories of how beneficiaries are being treated by our neoliberal welfare state, as exampled on TDB time and time and time and time and time again have built a belief that something fundamental must be […]