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NSW woman jailed for $3.6m childcare fraud

Date: 26 May 2017
Source: Education HQ Australia

A NSW childcare director who bought a pool, expensive car and house with $3.6 million-worth of fraudulently obtained federal government payments has been sentenced to at least four years in jail.

But lawyers for Melissa Jade Higgins, who was convicted of 81 offences in November, has already filed a motion of intention to appeal and a bail application is expected to be heard later on Friday.

When sentencing the 29-year-old on Friday the District Court judge Donna Woodburne said Higgins was motivated by greed when she made fraudulent claims for the Special Child Care Benefit (SCCB) on behalf of her Albury-based childcare centre between September 2013 and March 2015.

“Ms Higgins intentionally abused a system designed to assist children in need,” Judge Woodburne said.

“She was motivated by greed.”

Higgins, who maintains her innocence, made the claims on behalf of her Aussie Giggles childcare centre in relation to 14 children.

She bought an $87,000 car, a $30,000 pool and $740,000 house with the Department of Education and Social Services’ money which was put into five bank accounts.

Judge Woodburne said she forged a statuary declaration, a letter purportedly from medical practitioners and a document from a supposed child safety worker on department letter head.

The court heard Higgins charged families approved for the SCCB $180 an hour, or around $9000 a week, per child despite knowing the fees weren’t affordable.

“It was a ridiculous and exorbitant fee claimed precisely because and only because the government was footing the bill,” the judge said.

The SCCB is supposed to allow children at risk of abuse or neglect, of from a household experiencing financial hardship, access to early learning and child care.

The court heard Higgins claimed her high hourly fees would have applied regardless of whether the children were subject to the SCCB or not.

Judge Woodburne said she could not find Higgins had reasonable prospects of rehabilitation or that she’s unlikely to re-offend.

“She has demonstrated a complete lack of contrition and I consider it appropriate the sentence reflect an increased need for personal deterrence,” she said.

Higgins did not have a criminal record before these offences and became very interested about financial security after overspending on her credit card and becoming bankrupt at 18, the court heard.

The Crown expects the Commonwealth will retrieve most of the money incorrectly paid to Higgins’ company.

Higgins was sentenced to a maximum seven years in jail.

She will be eligible for parole May 2021.

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