A GRANTHAM grandmother has made an emotional plea for leniency after she was found guilty of fraudulently claiming more than $142,000 in flood relief.
It was not enough to save 56-year-old Christine Blackmore from a three-and-a-half year jail sentence though, when she appeared in Ipswich District Court yesterday to answer for the crime.
Blackmore was given the chance to address the court before her punishment was handed down by Judge Sarah Bradley.
A jury had earlier this year found Blackmore guilty of three fraud-related offences after she dishonestly obtained $142,763 from the Premier's Disaster Relief Fund.
In a teary address to the court, the grandmother of six said she had owned a house and a shop in Grantham which had been destroyed in the 2011 floods.
With the help of a case worker, Blackmore said she lodged a flood relief claim and was grateful when she received $40,000 in funding to help rebuild her life.
"I was surprised to receive what they called a 'top-up' of more than $100,000 when it appeared in my bank account months later as I hadn't completed a form," she said.
"I was thankful for it though, and used the money - as well as a bank loan of $200,000 - to rebuild my little shop and home."
Blackmore said she had also done what she could to help other flood victims in her community.
She said she was "shocked and surprised" when she was later charged with fraud on January 22, 2013.
The court heard Blackmore had made false declarations in her flood relief application, which resulted in her obtaining more money than she was entitled to.
Her charges included dishonestly gaining a benefit worth more than $30,000, forging a power of attorney contract with the intent to defraud and uttering a forged document.
Before she appeared in court yesterday, Blackmore had spent 87 days in jail awaiting a sentence for her crimes.
Blackmore said her time in jail so far had taken its toll.
"No one in my family, including myself, has ever been to jail before," she said. "It has brought such stress, sadness and pain - not only to me but to my family and friends.
"Sometimes I have to sleep on the floor of my cell due to overcrowding.
"I have had eight different cell mates who were coming down off drugs which is a very frightening, depressing and stressful experience.
"I have paid dearly for receiving money from the community to rebuild my life."
After considering the facts of the case, Judge Bradley said she was not in a position to find that Blackmore had been deliberately dishonest.
However, she said Blackmore appeared to be a person who could be "blind to reality" and capable of a "high degree of self-deception" and a lack of insight into her behaviour.
"These sorts of public funds depend on people being honest when they make claims upon them," Judge Bradley told Blackmore.
"If people receive money they are not entitled to, then others go without".
Judge Bradley said the dishonest claim seemed "out of character" for Blackmore but that general deterrence was an important sentencing factor. Blackmore will be eligible for parole on April 16, 2017, after serving 21 months in jail.
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