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Vic: Woman who scammed own family members also defrauded Centrelink

16 Jan 2009 1:35 PM

MELBOURNE, Jan 16 AAP - A woman who fleeced her de facto's family of more than $126,000 in a scam involving fictitious police and bikies also defrauded Centrelink of almost $50,000, a court has been told.

Over a five-year period, Debra Bassani falsely claimed various social security handouts, including parenting payments, totalling $49,846 that she was not entitled to.

Melbourne Magistrates' Court was told on Friday how Bassani, of Frankston, had two children with her de facto husband Allan Marriner.

But she failed to declare to Centrelink Mr Marriner's earnings, which totalled more than $197,000 during the time they lived together.

Prosecutor Megan Wood told the court Bassani was not entitled to the welfare payments, none of which had been repaid to the commonwealth government once her scam was uncovered, following a tip-off to Centrelink.

The court was told Bassani lodged her social security claims between November 2001 and February 2007, during which time she also blackmailed Mr Marriner and his brothers by telling them they were being chased by a bikie gang after a soured agreement over a rental property that the brothers owned.

As part of that elaborate plot, Bassani, 40, convinced the Marriners that the bikies would try to kill members of their family but they could be protected by her imaginary police detective father as long as they regularly paid protection money, totalling $126,180.

Bassani used mobile text messages to convince her de facto and his brothers of the danger they were in, prompting them to move around Victoria to escape the threat posed by the fictitious bikies, while she pocketed the danger money left under motel mats.

She later pleaded guilty to stalking, blackmail and obtaining money by deception and is still serving a jail sentence before being eligible for parole in March this year.

Ruling on the latest charges, Magistrate Phillip Goldberg noted Bassani - who, the court heard, has an IQ of 71 - suffered from a mental disorder called pseudologica fantastica, or mythomania, which caused her to invent stories and lies and act them out.

"It's a condition where you create a circumstance, untrue as it might be, and persuade others to act on that fantasy on the belief it is, in fact, occurring," Mr Goldberg said.

He added there was no doubt the charges she pleaded guilty to - dishonestly causing a loss to a commonwealth entity and two counts of obtaining property by deception from a commonwealth entity - demanded a prison sentence.

Her solicitor Leigh Thompson asked the court to take into account her current jail term and the fact she had not seen her children, who live with Mr Marriner, since she was taken into custody in December 2007.

Bassani was sentenced to an aggregate of two months' imprisonment, to be served concurrently with her existing jail term, meaning she will still be eligible for parole in mid-March.