Melissa Jade Higgins has allegedly been receiving Centrelink study payments for Indigenous students despite not being Indigenous, the NSW District Court has heard.
Higgins appeared before her bail hearing on Friday after being found guilty of more than 80 forgery and fraud offences that allowed her to amass a multi-million dollar fortune out of her family daycare centre Aussie Giggles in Wodonga.
Higgins falsified claims for $180-an-hour in subsidies for 14 children who were at risk of neglect or abuse and others that never attended her day care centre, netting her $225,000 a month over a two-year period between 2013 and 2015.
The crown opposed bail due to the “unacceptable risk” of Higgins not appearing for sentencing due to the “inevitability of a custodial sentence”. The imprisonment for one of her 81 convictions, dealing with the proceeds of crime valued at over $1 million, carries a maximum term of up to 25 years.
Higgins' defence barrister Luke Brasch, argued the 29-year-old was not a flight risk because of her strong family ties and no criminal history. She has never failed to attend court since her arrest by the Australian Federal Police 18 months ago when $2,250,000 was seized along with her $90,000 car.
We had money before and it was put towards the rent
He also said living at her home in Sydney would allow her to see a psychologist before serving any prison term.
Higgins' sister Sonya Higgins told the court her younger sister would be able to continue to live with her in their six-bedroom house near Cronulla and contribute to the $1300 a week in rent, despite being on unemployment benefits.
The crown prosecutor alleged Melissa had been receiving Abstudy, a government payment for Indigenous students until November this year.
Sonya confirmed her sister was not of Indigenous heritage, but said she was not aware of the details of her Centrelink payments.
Asked how the pair afford the rent for the six-bedroom house, Sonya, a single unemployed mother, told the court she had previously had $10,000 in her possession.
“We had money before and it was put towards the rent,” she said.
Judge Donna Woodburne refuted the crown's concern over Higgins potential failure to appear, granting bail under strict conditions with daily reporting to police. She will be sentenced on March 24.