A Kelowna woman who collected nearly $25,000 in income assistance while secretly earning a full-time wage for working at a local grocery store was convicted of fraud in a provincial court last week.
In the court decision posted online, judge Judge Ellen Burdet, found that Theresa Evelyn Derworiz, 63 intentionally defrauded the government to raise her social standing, not out of some misunderstanding of the rules and regulations surrounding income assistance.
Derworiz did not dispute that she was earning a full-time wage while receiving social assistance in the period between May 1, 2010 and Nov. 30, 2012 or that she owed the government $23,908.09 in overpayment. Derworiz did, however, unsuccessfully argue that she never intended to deceive the government. She testified she had been on social assistance since 1999, and when she became fully employed in 2010 she had made attempts to inform the Ministry, but they dropped the ball. And it kept rolling.
“It was Ms Derworiz’s evidence in chief that she tried to get off social assistance in 2010. She made a 1-800 phone call to the Ministry in August 2010 and told someone that she wanted to get off social assistance,” reads the decision.
“She provided her name and social insurance number to this person on the phone. According to Ms. Derworiz, this employee took her information and said good luck.”
Derworiz then received another social assistance cheque. She testified that she next went into the Dilworth office in August or September 2010 and filled out a stub, stating that she no longer needed social assistance. She recalled having submitted a similar stub earlier in July, and that she put in $1,400 as her income on that stub.
For six months after she started working full time, Derworiz withdrew her social assistance payments soon after she received them.
She testified that she set them aside in case she had to pay them back. She also contemplated taking the money and putting it in the night deposit slip at the Ministry office. She then decided that was too risky.
In January she stopped withdrawing the social assistance money from her bank account and setting it aside. She testified that she came to the conclusion that perhaps the Ministry was helping her out because she no longer had a roommate. She thought she was entitled to the money—even going so far as to say that she was getting to live like and spent what she had set aside.
She added that she did not know what else she could have done to stop the social assistance arriving every month.
Derworiz admitted she knew the Ministry only permitted a total monthly income of $1,400, derived from a combination of wages and social assistance. Any amount above that figure would be clawed back by the Ministry.
She also acknowledged sending in monthly reports for 11 years and that there is clear wording on the stubs that she was to report any changes of income, and that there is wording on the stubs that as a person with a disability, she only needed to report changes to her income.
And that is where Burdet found the intent needed to convict Derworiz of fraud.
“She knew that if she told the Ministry how much money she was making working at Canada Safeway, she would no longer receive assistance. I also conclude she knew she was not entitled to social assistance, given her actions for six months in setting aside the money she received,” wrote Judge Burdet, in her decision.
“She knew that the money she received could have been used by the Ministry for other social assistance recipients. I do not accept her evidence regarding her efforts at alerting the Ministry to her increased income. Even if I did accept it, those efforts fell far short of her continued obligation to accurately declare her income each month that she received income assistance.”
Burdet continued, saying, Derworiz’s nondisclosure caused the Ministry to continue to send her monthly social assistance cheques, which she spent.
“This is conduct that reasonable decent people would consider dishonest and unscrupulous,” she said.
” I find that the Crown has proven beyond a reasonable doubt both the actus reus and mens rea of the offence of fraud and I convict Ms. Derworiz accordingly.”
Derworiz will be sentenced April 10 at 9:30 a.m.