Melissa Higgins arrives at court on Friday. Photo: Cole BennettsAn Albury day care ownerwho amasseda multi-million-dollar fortunethrough bogus government benefit claims has maintained her innocence, telling a psychologist she has no idea how or why she was foundguilty.
IN DENIAL: Melissa Jade Higgins has told a psychologist she has no idea how or why she was found guilty, a court has been told. Picture: FAIRFAX
Melissa Jade Higgins, 29, was last year found guilty by a juryof forging children’sattendancerecords at her Aussie Gigglesfamily day care centre to rake inmore than $3.6 million in taxpayer funding.
Higginswas convicted of 81 offences, including 66 counts of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception, 14 counts of using a forged documentand one count of dealing with the proceeds of crime in excess of $1 million.
Higgins, who was the sole director of the company,madefake claims for special child carebenefits, which cover thecost of child care for children who areexperiencingor at risk of abuse orneglect.
The court heard thatHigginsclaimed the subsidy at an inflated rate of up to$180 per hour for 14 children who were not at risk and others who did notattend the centre,netting her $225,000 a month over a two-year period between 2013 and 2015.
Prosecutor Chris Taylor
Higgins, who has been on bail since herconviction,now faces imprisonment.
Asentencing hearing in the Downing Centre District Court in Sydney on Friday heard that Higgins had maintained her innocence to a forensic psychologist.
The psychologist told the court that Higgins’ was experiencing “extremely severe”anxiety, depression and stress and would need to be very closely monitored if she was given acustodial sentence.
The court heard that Higgins had at first enjoyed operating the child care centre but whenthe centre startedexpanding she “couldn’t keep up”.
Higgins, who was supported by her family in court, did not give evidence.
Her mother told the court her daughter had become depressed and quiet since her conviction, and she was concerned she might harm herself.
ButCrown prosecutor Chris Taylortold the court that Higgins’evidence could not be relied upon.
“The Crown maintains its submission that this offending appears to a large extent to relate to greed,”Mr Taylor said.“Need would not in the Crown’s submission be made out in the circumstances of this offending and would be an unreasonable interpretation of need.”
The Crown made anapplication to revokeHiggins’ bail which will be heard in court next Friday.
The jury verdict was handed down more than 18 months afterHiggins’bank account was frozen and $2,250,000 was seized along with other property, including a $90,000 car, during an arrest by the Australian Federal Police.