Former nurse’s second jail sentence for Centrelink fraud

A MOTHER of two has been sent to prison for the second time after being sentenced in Rockhampton courts for the third time for Centrelink fraud.

Maree Josephine Armstrong, 47, was sentenced in Rockhampton District Court on March 17 for one count of gaining financial advantage by deception.

Between October 7, 2011, and August 2016, Armstrong gained an extra $52,836.45 in parenting and Newstart ­benefits she wasn't entitled due to her income from working as a nurse for Queensland Health and Blue Nurses.

She had been given a total of $56,844.93 by Centrelink during that period.

Armstrong had an average weekly income of $1150 during the offending period.

Judge Michael Burnett criticised Armstrong for delays in the matter.

"This defendant has been brought kicking and screaming to court," he said.

"This defendant came to court and challenged the ­authority of the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) on constitutional grounds.

"Even after that (was dismissed after a hearing) it's taken two years to bring it here for sentence.

"It was a hopeless application and had no prospects."

Armstrong pleaded guilty two weeks before the matter was to go to trial.

The Health Ombudsman stripped her of her nursing registration as of January 14, 2019 and banned her from applying for registration for two years. Read more here: Jail term conviction leads to two-year ban for nurse

The court heard she had been diagnosed with an anti social personality disorder on the basis of three elements - she fails to conform to social norms by offending, repeated lying for profit and/or pleasure and lack of remorse over stealing.

The New Zealand-born Australian citizen's criminal record included being sentenced in Rockhampton Magistrates Court in October 2006 for failing to declare ­employment while on Centrelink payments, gaining $9,674.43. She had failed to report employment income between April 29, 2004 and October 12, 2005.

She was released on a two year good behaviour bond with a recognisance of $1000, fined $750 and ordered to pay the outstanding debt of $7849.63.

Seven years later, Armstrong was sentenced again in Rockhampton Magistrates Court for like offending of over $22,000 across 85 fortnights between August 16, 2007 and November 17, 2010.

She was sentenced to nine months prison, released after two and on a good behaviour bond for two years with a recognisance of $1000. Armstrong was also fined $1000.

One week after her release from prison, she started offending again and only had a seven month gap in offending when she was taken into custody to serve the remainder of previous sentence.

"It seems your time in custody did not assist your rehabilitation," Judge Burnett said.

"These allowances are paid to people most deserving in our community."

He said it created tension in the community when people saw underdeserving people get these benefits.

Armstrong's offending was picked up by the Australian Tax Office using the Data Match program.

Judge Burnett ordered Armstrong to a 2.5 year prison term to be released after eight months on a three year good behaviour bond with a $1000 recognisance and 18 months probation.

He also ordered she pay back the $52,836.45.