BENEFIT fraudster Christina Tembo cheated the government out of £37,000 – to pay for her ‘obese 16-stone’ daughter’s gastric band.
The 54-year-old, of Roman Grove, Portchester, was handed a suspended sentence after admitting six charges of fraud dating back to 2011.
Portsmouth Crown Court heard she moved cash between 11 bank accounts in various periods between 2011 and 2016.
She signed forms saying she had less than £6,000 – the means-tested limit to claim – but had far more.
In all, she claimed £15,607 in JobSeekers’ Allowance and £19,716 in housing benefit.
When interviewed by investigators from the Department for Work and Pensions she said that ‘one of her daughters was obese, weighing 16-stone’, prosecutor Simon Foster said.
Mr Foster said: ‘She had been advised that the NHS were unlikely to insert a gastric band, she was therefore setting aside money for a private operation’.
Sentencing, judge David Melville QC imposed a one-year concurrent sentence on all charges, suspended for two years.
Addressing Tembo in the dock, he said: ‘For many years you have extracted from the benefits system substantial sums of money which have totalled £35,000.
‘That is because you have failed to disclose your assets and over many years have taken sums from the state to which you’ve not been entitled.
‘As you probably know, how could you not know, this country needs all the benefits properly allocated to those who deserve them, not to those who don’t.
‘As a result of that in some cases an immediate custodial sentence is more than justified.’
But after hearing that Tembo is being treated by a consultant psychiatrist and had ‘very significant mental health problems’, the judge did not send her to jail.
The judge added: ‘In the circumstances it would be unjust to impose an immediate custodial sentence.’
The three types of benefit were not claimed continuously between 2011 and 2016.
Bridget O’Hagan, mitigating, said Tembo did not see the money in her account as hers to spend.
She said: ‘In her mind the monies in her account were not hers to spend.’
Tembo had taken some cash out to give to her daughters for their trips home, and that she needed to give her husband some money.
Judge Melville warned Tembo if she is ‘foolish enough to commit any other’ crime she would be brought back to court and most likely be sent to prison.