GOING TO THE MINISTRY OFFICE MADE HER FEEL "WORTHLESS"
KELOWNA – A Kelowna cashier is awaiting sentencing for fraud after collecting and spending close to $24,000 in social assistance while working full time because she was “finally living like everyone else.”
According to a March 30 judgment by Judge Ellen Burdett, Theresa Derworiz, who has been on income assistance since 1999, was working 40 hours per week as a cashier at Safeway while collecting money from the province between May 1, 2010 and November 30, 2012. Burdett convicted her of fraud over $5,000.
“For six months after she started working full time, Ms. Derworiz withdrew her social assistance payments soon after she received them,” the judgement says. “She testified that she set them aside in case she had to pay them back. In January she stopped withdrawing the social assistance money from her bank account and setting it aside. She testified that she came to the conclusion that perhaps the Ministry was helping her out because she no longer had a roommate. She thought she was entitled to the money. “
Derworiz did not dispute the charge but testified she tried multiple times to alert the Ministry of her employment. According to her, the Ministry continued to deposit checks into her bank account and therefore she does not qualify for the offence of fraud.
When asked why she stopped putting aside the monthly social assistance she received after January 2011, she replied she thought she was “finally living like everyone else,” and was entitled to the money.
The assistant manager of the Safeway testified Derworiz, who claims to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, migraines and other medical conditions, earns $16.70 an hour.
Derworiz told Burdett she phoned the Minsitry in 2010 to get off social assistance but still continued to receive monthly cheques.
When asked why she did not try harder to rectify the situation, she said she was "saving her energy to go to work” and that going to the Ministry office made her feel “worthless.”
“Her explanations for certain actions she took were inconsistent, illogical and simply unbelievable,” writes Burdett. “Based on her long history of collecting social assistance and declaring income, I find that she knew she was ineligible for social assistance if she earned above a certain amount. Her actions in putting aside her social assistance for the first six months after she earned more than $1,400 clearly shows she knew she was not entitled to the money.”
Derworiz, who was granted disability status in 2000, was also audited in 2004 and 2010 and found to have received overpayment of more than $1,300 and $200 respectively.
She is due to be sentenced April 10.
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