A day care owner who amassed a multi-million dollar fortune through bogus government benefit claims has maintained her innocence, telling a psychologist she has no idea how or why she was found guilty.
Nanjing Night Net

Melissa Jade Higgins was last year found guilty by a jury of forging children’s attendance records at her Albury-based Aussie Giggles family day care centre to rake in more than $3.6 million in taxpayer funding.

The 29-year-old’s 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.

Higgins was convicted of 81 offences, including 66 counts of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception, 14 counts of using a forged document and one count of dealing with the proceeds of crime in excess of $1 million.

Higgins, who was the sole director of the company, made fake claims for special childcare benefits, which cover the cost of childcare for children who are experiencing or at risk of abuse or neglect.

The court heard Higgins claimed the subsidy at an inflated rate of up to $180 per hour for 14 children who were not at risk and others who did not attend the centre, netting her $225,000 a month over a two-year period between 2013 and 2015.

Higgins, who has been on bail since her conviction, now faces a period of imprisonment.

A sentencing hearing in the Downing Centre District Court 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 a custodial sentence.

The court heard that Higgins had at first enjoyed operating the childcare centre but, when the centre started expanding, 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.

But prosecutor Chris Taylor told the court that Higgins’ evidence could not be relied upon.

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