Friday August 29, 2014

Welfare fraudster given eight months in jail

'The accused has abused our social assistance system, which has trouble bearing demands made of it by those truly in need'

Before Susanne Smith got out of jail in 2007 she applied for welfare funding that would await her release.

Soon after she was home and receiving benefits, Smith was forging a doctor’s letterhead and notes claiming trips to hospitals in Kelowna and Vancouver that she never made.

In total Smith faked 23 trips, bilking the province of social assistance transportation funding of more than $8,000 over three years.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Richard Blair sentenced Smith Tuesday to eight months in jail. He also ordered that she must pay back the money to the province.

"The accused has abused our social assistance system, which has trouble bearing demands made of it by those truly in need," Blair said, adding a clear message must be sent to others who would try to rip off the welfare system.

Smith has a record for crimes of dishonesty spanning more than four decades.

Crown prosecutor Chris Balison asked for a federal jail sentence of two years for the 62-year-old woman, calling the fraud something that "require(d) some sophistication and planning.”

Smith's criminal record begins in 1969 and includes forging documents, shoplifting, possession of stolen property, impersonation and breaking a conditional sentence order.

Blair agreed there is an element of planning to Smith's fraud, adding he could not agree to a conditional sentence order served in the community.

Defence lawyer Don Campbell sought a two-year conditional sentence for his client, saying Smith has mental health issues that are only now being treated at Interior Health Authority's King Street mental health clinic.

The clinic brings together mental health, physician, nurse and counselling services under one roof on the North Shore.

But Balison said through decades of crime, Smith has exhausted counselling and rehab services, including King Street.

"She's been offending while she's receiving it (counselling)," he said.

Smith was accompanied by a King Street mental health worker, who hugged her before she was taken to jail by sheriffs.

A psychiatric expert wrote a report several years ago that stated Smith was not mentally ill. Campbell said she was addicted to painkillers and turned to crime to buy drugs on the street. She is now on a supervised methadone program.

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