Addicts rorted bushfire fund

Addicts rorted bushfire fund

24 February 2011

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Australia — Two elderly heroin addicts stole just over $60,000 from Centrelink by falsely claiming they were victims of the 2009 Victorian Black Saturday bushfires, a court has heard.

Sally Frances Lynch, 56, of Sandringham and Carmel Begun, 69, of Port Melbourne kept a dossier of addresses in Kinglake, Pheasant Creek and Kinglake West as well as bank account details, benefit payment dates and the location of several Centrelink offices so that they could “keep their story straight” with Centrelink.

The friends are now liable to repay about $30,000 each to Centrelink, the Victorian County Court was told.

Lynch pleaded guilty to nine counts of dishonestly obtaining property by deception, and three counts of attempting to dishonestly obtain property by deception while Begun pleaded guilty to four counts of dishonestly obtaining property by deception and one count of theft.

Judge Roy Punshon was told this morning that Lynch and Begun falsely told Centrelink on several occasions that they were victims of the bushfires.

Prosecutor Andrew Sprague said they told officers that their homes had been destroyed or damaged or that they were unable to work because of bushfire damage, the court heard.

Lynch and Begun successfully applied for a one-off $1000 payment as well as the Income Recovery Subsidy Assistance at several Centrelink offices including Cheltenham, Darebin, Port Melbourne and at the Whittlesea Recovery Centre, as well as over the phone.

Mr Sprague said the subsidy assistance was an ex-gratia payment to help employees, farmers and small business operators who lost income directly from the bushfires.

Centrelink later made checks of its books, and found that several payments that Begun and Lynch had applied for were being paid to similar bank accounts. The two friends used false names for each payment. In total, Begun dishonestly obtained $31,796.72 and Lynch obtained $29,074.52.

Mr Sprague said that when interviewed by federal police officers, Begun said that she used the money to buy heroin to which she has been addicted for 40 years.

Lynch said she used the money to support her daily heroin habit.

Mr Sprague said that Begun told police that she didn’t usually commit crime to support her drug habit, but when it was suggested how easy it would be to get the money, she used more and more heroin as she got more money.

The plea hearing continues.

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