A woman who gambled over €200,000 while getting by on social benefits and failing to declare her earnings as a fortune teller, has had her suspended sentence and fine converted to effective imprisonment on appeal.
Criminal investigations against the woman, whose name was banned from publication by the court, kicked off after police received confidential information in 2020 about her gambling sprees at local casinos.
The woman appeared to be spending substantial sums of money, far beyond the income she declared for tax purposes.
She was last registered as an employee in 2008, but was fired from that job after allegedly stealing cheques at the workplace.
That allegation led to separate criminal proceedings.
In 2009, the woman registered as ‘sole trader’ with the VAT department and set up a business as a fortune teller.
Meanwhile, she lived in government housing and applied for social benefits.
She received a total of €35,123.30 in 2008, 2009, 2012 and from 2014 to 2021, when she declared that she had no job because of her medical condition.
She was also a mother of children who were still minors, the woman claimed.
However, police investigations showed that she had gambled some €203,604 between 2009 and 2020, with payments being mostly in cash.
Those amounts did not match her declared income.
Moreover, after setting up her fortune-telling business in 2018, she failed to declare income, thus defrauding public coffers.
The woman was subsequently charged with misappropriation, fraud and money laundering as well as breaching various court sentences and relapsing.
In 2022, she was declared guilty and was handed a 2-year jail term suspended for four years as well as a fine of €28,000, besides forfeiting a €4000 bail bond and confiscation of all her property.
She was also ordered to pay €1053.98 in court expert expenses.
The Attorney General appealed that decision on various grounds which were partly upheld, thus resulting in an increase in punishment.
The Court of Criminal Appeal, presided over by Madam Justice Edwina Grima, found the accused guilty of breaching previous sentences and also of recidivism.
The first court had cleared her of recidivism because the prosecution had failed to prove sufficiently the exact dates when previous court sentences had allegedly been breached by the accused.
However the Attorney General argued that the accused had admitted to the money laundering, misappropriation and fraud after the prosecution had wrapped up its evidence stage.
The accused’s criminal record showed that although she had been given various chances to change her ways, she persisted in breaking the law to the detriment of a number of persons who ended up being victims of her fraudulent behaviour, observed the judge.
The offences in respect of which the accused had registered an admission were committed between 2012 and 2021 and that meant that the accused was a recidivist.
Since she was guilty of recidivism, she could never have been handed a suspended sentence, observed the judge.
When all was considered the court confirmed the conviction, but instead of the suspended sentence and fine, condemned the accused to a 2-year effective jail term.
The court also added a further one-and-a-half-year term, less the time spent under preventive custody, for separate charges over which the accused had been conditionally discharged in 2015.
The accused was also found guilty of three other charges relating to a breach of another suspended sentence, a probation order and a conditional discharge for which she was to face further sentencing before the Magistrates’ Courts.
Whilst handing down a three-and a half year term of effective imprisonment, the court recommended that the Director of prisons was to afford the accused all necessary help in view of her mental condition.
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