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NSW: Biggest Loser host sorry for welfare fraud, court told

By Stephanie Gardiner
13 Jan 2009 6:23 PM

SYDNEY, Jan 13 AAP - Biggest Loser host Ajay Rochester is sorry for claiming welfare payments when she knew she was not entitled, but deserves a second chance, her lawyer says.

Rochester, 39, was due to be sentenced on Tuesday over 23 charges of fraudulently claiming Centrelink's single parent benefit between December 2001 and December 2005.

But Magistrate Pat O'Shane said she was concerned about a number of details in the chronology of offences included in the statement of facts presented in Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court and has delayed sentencing until Wednesday.

Rochester, dressed in a white shirt and a grey belted dress, will again have to run the gauntlet of a large media pack outside court as she waits to hear her fate.

Among Ms O'Shane's concerns were that Centrelink investigating officer David Cosgrove had referred to a number of high-profile cases in a May 2006 interview.

Ms O'Shane read from a statement made by Rochester's then partner Martin Gleabe, who was with the television host during the interview at their home in Maroubra.

"He could not guarantee this would not get out and kept referring to high-profile cases," Ms O'Shane read from the statement.

"He said at anytime it could get out."

Ms O'Shane called for both Mr Gleabe and Mr Cosgrove to be cross-examined on the matter.

Mr Gleabe stood by his statement, saying Mr Cosgrove referred to the 2005 case of Neighbours star Rowena Wallace who escaped jail for defrauding the commonwealth out of $30,000.

"There was comments about Rowena Wallace, that's why I distinctly remember those comments being made," Mr Gleabe told the court.

Investigating officer David Cosgrove told the court he had only referred to the possibility of Rochester's case getting media attention if it reached the courts.

"I instructed her that it was Centrelink's policy during the course of investigations to protect privacy of any customers," Mr Cosgrove said.

"I couldn't guarantee once it was in the court system that it would not become public."

Previously named Lee Ann Towler, Rochester authored the books Confessions Of A Reformed Dieter, Blubberguts and The Lazy Girl's Guide To Losing Weight And Getting Fit.

She began hosting the Network Ten reality show The Biggest Loser in 2006.

Rochester's lawyer Robert Bromwich told the court Rochester was a single mother with a child who suffered from Asperger's Syndrome.

She was ashamed of claiming the benefits while working and had repaid the overpayments, totalling just over $14,000, in 2007 when notified of how much was due, Mr Bromwich said.

She had also fully co-operated with investigation, he said.

"That is the right kind of sorry," Mr Bromwich told the court.

"(She is) a person who has undoubtedly done the wrong thing but deserves a second chance."

Mr Bromwich said Rochester's career prospects should not be marred, asking Ms O'Shane not to record a conviction.

Commonwealth prosecutor Steve Pemberton said Rochester had only changed her plea to guilty on the sixth court proceeding in November last year.

He said the sentence needed to reflect the seriousness of the offence.

"In matters of Centrelink (fraud) almost all offenders at people of good character," Mr Pemberton said.

"I suggest that ... there is nothing that puts this offender in a different position than the vast majority of other offenders."

Rochester will be sentenced in the same court at noon on Wednesday.