By Jessica Magee
A woman who fraudulently claimed over €88,000 from the State in Social Welfare payments has been sentenced to two years in prison with 15 months suspended.
Mercie Wambui (32) used the money to financially support her family in Kenya who were in “dire conditions”, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court has heard.
Wambui came to Ireland from Kenya in 2006 as an asylum seeker and later became entitled to certain State benefits. However she also used a false identity to get a job with the Daughters of the Cross in 2008, which she never declared.
Wambui, with an address at Brackenwood Avenue, Balbriggan, Co Dublin, pleaded guilty to sample counts of fraud amounting to €88,877 on dates between August 2010 and September 2016.
Passing sentence today/yesterday (FRI), Judge Melanie Greally acknowledged the “grave and difficult circumstances” of Wambui's background and the fact that three of her sisters and her father had died since her arrival in Ireland.
Judge Greally said Wambui's inability to work legally in Ireland as an asylum seeker caused financial constraints which initially forced her to take a criminal route.
“People required to live on such a paltry stipend … are sometimes driven to extreme measures,” said the judge.
However, she added that “the real moral culpability lies in where she has secured a position and continues to claim”, commenting that Wambui's offence had “elements of a systemic and significant fraud”.
“It was a substantial amount of money taken over a significant period of time, and there was sustained dishonesty in failing to report her well-paid job with the Daughters of Charity,” said Judge Greally.
The judge suspended the final 15 months of the sentence, taking into consideration Wambui's remorse, her low risk of re-offending, her excellent work history in the field of nursing and the fact that she was a good mother and carer to her son.
The court heard that Wambui was not entitled to work or claim social welfare when she came to Ireland from Kenya in September 2006, as an asylum seeker.
She was only entitled to claim the Direct Provision weekly payment of €19, which subsequently rose to €28 weekly.
When Wambui's son was born in October 2011, she became entitled to One Parent Allowance, which she claimed between June 2012 and June 2016. She also claimed Rent Allowance during this period.
However in 2008, while still in receipt of Direct Provision Allowance, she procured false ID papers which had been stolen in France. Using a false name, she got a job with The Daughters of the Cross earning €650 a week and did not declare her income.
At one point she claimed maternity benefit for six months under this false name.
Wambui was arrested in July 2016 and eventually made full admissions, telling gardaí she had been under severe financial pressure when she was only claiming €19 a week and that she had been “afraid to tell the truth”.
The court heard that Wambui has already made €7,000 available to the State as restitution and is making repayments at a rate of €25 per week. She has also offered to pay over her Children's Allowance payment of €140 per month to the Department of Social Protection.
The sentence was backdated to December 29, 2017 to take into account the time Wambui has already spent in custody.