Woman accused of defrauding ministry

Charged with bilking province for more than $50,000 in disability benefits

Cam Fortems / Kamloops Daily News
December 20, 2012 01:00 AM

A 63-year-old handicapped woman stood trial Thursday on a charge that she bilked the province over four years for more than $50,000 in disability benefits.

But Arleen Gingras testified in B.C. Supreme Court said she was nothing more than a tenant in her landlord's home, not his common-law partner as alleged by investigators working for the Ministry of Social Development.

Prosecutor Chris Balison outlined the facts behind a charge of fraud over $5,000 against Gingras.

Gingras lived in the basement of Mike Mickels' MacKenzie Avenue home between 2004 and 2008. She arranged for the rent portion of her disability assistance to be paid directly to Mickels, whom she declared as her landlord.

When Mickels died in the fall of 2008, Gingras informed ministry staff she was granted the house in Mickels' will. Gingras's mother, now dead, was the executor.

Gingras also applied for widow benefits under Mickels' Canada Pension Plan benefits.

Exhibits were entered into court showing Gingras failed to note any change in her relationships during interviews with ministry workers or on forms submitted to receive monthly cheques. She said she was living alone, renting a basement address.

But Balison said evidence shows at some point their relationship changed from landlord-tenant to a couple, evidenced by her own declarations later.

"Her responsibility is to detail any change in her circumstances," Balison said.

Gingras opened a joint account in their names in mid-2008, several months before Mickels died. She told the court she did that while Mickels was ill, in order to pay household bills.

Balison also noted wording in an obituary published in The Daily News and Kamloops This Week, arranged by Gingras.

"Each states Mr. Mickels was survived by his common-law wife Arleen."

Gingras testified she met Mickels early in 2004, when he was walking in the North Kamloops neighbourhood and she was on her scooter. Under questioning from defence lawyer Don Campbell she repeatedly called him her "friend" and "best friend."

Gingras was stricken by polio as a toddler and now suffers from its effects. She has limited vocabulary and didn't appear to understand a simple letter given to her on the witness stand by her lawyer.

But she did say the two were never involved in a romantic relationship.

Balison said income assistance legislation defines a relationship as residing together in a "marriage-like relationship" or two people living together who share financial or social interdependence and "interactions that are marriage-like."

Any of those aspects requires a declaration to the ministry.

The trial heard from two witnesses, Gingras as well as a friend.

Justice Dev Dley is set to render a decision Friday.

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