Mum appeals sentence

A MOTHER of eight who was sentenced to three months’ jail after she made false declarations to obtain $13,668 from a bushfire victims’ emergency fund will appeal her sentence today in the County Court.

Magistrate Peter Mellas sentenced 34 year-old Churchill resident Nicole Tanya Stivic to three months’ jail and a 12-month community corrections order after she pled guilty at the eleventh hour on Monday to one charge of obtaining property by deception.

She was also ordered to repay the sum she obtained as part of the bushfire relief funds to the Department of Human Services.

The court heard Stivic had attended the Mirboo North and Traralgon recovery centres between 10 and 24 February 2009 and made false declarations on the personal hardship grant assessments as part of the DHS’s Emergency Grants at least four times.

In handing down the “serious and severe punishment”, Mr Mellas said it would hopefully serve as a deterrent.

“Over time, I think because people have taken advantage (of such assistance), barriers to genuine claimants have gone up, and people then criticise (the agencies),” Mr Mellas said.

“The community ends up being concerned the money is not well-spent and there are increasing barriers (for those who need it most) to get help; this is the heart of the problem of this type of offending.”

Mr Mellas also expressed his concern the extent to which she was prepared to see through what she had done.

“You had the opportunity to stop, and all sorts of options to walk away, but you didn’t; unfortunately your prior history of at least one other incident hasn’t given me a lot of confidence this offence may not be repeated,” he said to Stivic.

Defence attorney Daniel Cash said Stivic’s actions were “brazen, opportunistic and unsophisticated” and his client knew it was “always highly likely she would be detected”, but was “ashamed and wanted to make amends”.

The court heard Stivic had used the money to feed her family and to fund a drug addiction; since then, she has stopped using drugs.

Prosecutor Sergeant Tim Bridson said the sentence would hopefully serve as a deterrent to others who might consider such dishonesty.

“Anyone proposing to steal money should expect to go to jail,” Sgt Bridson said.