Medicare fraudster mum to be put behind bars with her child for a year
A Melbourne mum and her young son will spend at least 12 months behind bars after she stole nearly $200,000 from Medicare while working at a medical clinic.
Sarah Ward, 31, made more than 1600 false claims to Medicare, sometimes up to 80 a day, while working as a medical receptionist at the Melbourne Digestive Centre.
It wasn't the first time the mother of two committed a fraud while working in the medical field.
READ MORE: Teen airlifted to hospital after shooting south-east of Melbourne
Ward had just completed a sentence for stealing $29,000 from Cabrini Hospital, where she worked for five years before being sacked.
County Court Judge Geoff Chettle jailed her for two years on Friday, ordering her to serve at least 12 months for the theft of $181,121.75 from Medicare between March 2019 and April 2020.
The 1609 false claims included 781 in her name and 828 for her husband, with refunds transferred into bank accounts for both of them.
Her fraud was uncovered when the clinic's accountants tipped off Medicare and authorities.
Ward told a psychologist she believed she was inadequately paid and wanted to keep up with more affluent friends – being able to buy better clothing for her children and a better car.
Judge Chettle said Ward had wanted to keep up with lifestyles she saw on social media.
Unless she could overtly demonstrate her worthiness by accumulating the external trappings of success, she believed she would be destined to experience recurrent rejection and remain on the periphery of social groups.
Her offending involved planning and sophistication, was repetitive and long-lasting.
The amount she obtained was significant and she had flagrantly breached the trust placed in her by her employers, Judge Chettle said.
She was fired by the clinic after the offending was uncovered and then went to work for a psychology practice unaware of her crimes.
She has been on maternity leave since February last year, but seems destined to lose that job once in jail, the judge said.
Ward has two children, aged one and three.
The youngest will go into custody with her as part of Corrections Victoria's Living with Mum program.
Former colleague Vanessa Whitelaw attended court hearings for Ward to get closure after a traumatic period within the close-knit workplace.
Coworkers had wondered about Ward's lavish lifestyle, Whitelaw said.
"We thought it was very strange – she was very young, (with a) new family, mortgage, driving around in a $150,000 vehicle, Gucci scarves, fancy shoes," she said.
"But never in a million years did we think that this was going on behind the scenes."
Sign up here to receive our daily newsletters and breaking news alerts, sent straight to your inbox.