Ipswich woman ripped off Centrelink and gave to the poor

SHE stole from the Australian taxpayer and gave it to the poor.

Riverview woman Margaret Rita Muliaga defrauded close to $17,000 from Centrelink and after satisfying her gambling addiction used the remainder to help homeless people.

The 45-year-old spent the cash she had lied to obtain to buy food to donate, support homeless people and "people worse off than her".

Muliaga was on bail for other fraud-related offending in 2009 when she began five-year period of over- claiming Newstart benefits.

The $16,650.77 she swindled was originally used to gamble before Muliaga's teenage daughter encouraged her to turn to the Samoan Independent Seventh Day Adventist Church at Bellbird Park to tackle her crippling gambling addiction.

She solved her addiction and turned her attention to those less fortunate.

Friend of 15 years and church member, Sina Mokalei said Muliaga made a significant impact on church members and the community.

"She's definitely been a great help with youth activities, youth fundraising and also visiting and feeding homeless and visiting the elderly," she said.

"She was the taxi lady in church, if someone needed a lift to church she never hesitated or denied anybody.

"We've done so many activates within the church so she's always been a great help in that area."

Ms Mokalei said she hoped Muliaga could move on from her criminal activity and return to her church work.

"As humans, we all have our struggles but she is definitely a very humble person," she said.

"It would be a great impact on the church if we were to lose Margaret.

"We all make mistakes and we hope this doesn't overshadow or overpower the good she has done, I hope the good outweighs the bad and she has a chance to get through this."

Muliaga's community work was the difference between her being jailed and walking free from Ipswich Magistrates Court on Tuesday.

The court heard she committed the fraud while on bail for similar offending.

Magistrate David Shepherd said Muliaga was "seen by others to be a generous person".

"There is nothing to suggest you used the money for unnecessary and luxury items but rather simply to sustain yourself when you had a gambling problem," he said.

You are in a different category to people who take from the Australian taxpayer and use it to prop up your own ego and lifestyle.

"This is a very close call.

"Under slightly different circumstances you would be spending some time in custody."

Muliaga pleaded guilty to four counts of obtaining financial advantage and was sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment, but released on a good-behaviour bond.

She was also sentenced to two years' probation and ordered to repay $16,650.77 to the Commonwealth.

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