A Gwynneville businesswoman left with almost half a million dollars in her bank account following the death of her husband has been caught defrauding Centrelink of welfare payments designed for struggling single parents.
Megan Elizabeth Ryan, 39, pleaded guilty in Wollongong Local Court recently to one count of obtaining a financial advantage from a Commonwealth entity after admitting she cheated taxpayers out of more than $50,000 of parenting payments she wasn’t entitled to receive.
Court documents said Ryan was on maternity leave from her well-paying managerial job and had $445,478 in the bank when she applied for and was granted the single parenting payment in August 2012, five months after her husband’s death from cancer.
The court heard the money in her account included a large death benefit payout from her husband’s superannuation fund and about $200,000 raised during a community benefit night held in her husband’s memory.
However, she provided no bank statements to Centrelink at the time and declared she had no income, assets or investments, prompting the agency to begin paying her the benefit.
She returned to part-time work in October on an annual salary of $95,700.
The court heard Ryan was sent multiple “obligation” letters from Centrelink over the next two years advising her of her legal obligation to report her income and that her parenting payments would be calculated based on that declaration.
However, court documents said Ryan failed to advise Centrelink of any earnings for almost three years, including her salary, about $36,000 in work-related financial bonuses and $10,000 in payments from a Unanderra real estate agent.
Meantime, Centrelink paid Ryan $57,228 in parenting benefits during the same period.
The ATO picked up the anomaly in September 2015 and Ryan was subsequently charged.
In a typed letter to the court, Ryan described the timeframe of the offence as “a very sad time in my life” but said she was disappointed in herself for not being more diligent about her finances.
“This time and for many years to come was a complete blur for me, my life as I once knew it was never to be the same again,” she said.
“I had never had parenting payments until after I lost my husband – ignorance is not a defence, however I didn’t realise what my obligations were and I should have.”
Magistrate Doug Dick ordered Ryan to perform 200 hours of community service and fined her $10,000.
She has also already begun repaying the amount owed to Centrelink.