15 Nov 2022

Covid-19 wage subsidy fraud: Beneficiary pockets $50k for drugs and gambling

6:11 pm on 15 November 2022

By Tara Shaskey, Open Justice reporter of NZ Herald

Pile of New Zealand currency laying flat on table

At the time of the offending, Logan James Cochrane was on a benefit, gambling online and addicted to smoking P. Photo: 123RF

Gambling and drugs - that was what beneficiary Logan James Cochrane sank more than $50,000 of taxpayers' money into when he posed as a business owner to fraudulently claim a series of Covid-19 wage subsidy payments.

The South Taranaki man was gambling online and "heavily" using methamphetamine during March and September 2020, the same period he made 34 fraudulent applications to the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) for wage subsidy and leave support payments.

The taxpayer-funded schemes were introduced to support businesses and workers who were hit by the Covid-19 pandemic response.

Ten of the applications Cochrane submitted were successful and a total of $50,378.80 was paid into his personal bank account. A further 24 - totalling $108,700 - were not approved.

He made 33 of the claims using the tax details of a Taranaki company, whose name has been suppressed, without its authority to do so, Hāwera District Court heard on Monday.

The remaining application was submitted using the name of the company but Cochrane's personal tax details.

Some of the applications listed Cochrane as a sole trader while others were made as a business and listed himself and his friends as employees.

His offending came to light around February 2021 and MSD launched an investigation.

Cochrane subsequently admitted representative charges of using a document for pecuniary advantage and using a document in an attempt to gain pecuniary advantage.

In court, Judge Tony Greig revealed Cochrane was already serving a home detention sentence for drug and dishonesty offences.

He said Cochrane was once a successful businessman with a limited criminal history but in 2015 he suffered a "significant" head injury. This saw him begin to self-medicate and return to offending, which in recent times had increased in severity.

At the time Cochrane ripped off the Covid-19 financial support schemes, he was on a benefit, gambling online and addicted to smoking P.

Judge Greig accepted this as the cause of his offending.

While Cochrane couldn't identify exactly what the money went on, it was apparent that "friendships, substance use and gambling consumed any money [he] did receive," the judge said.

A pre-sentence report stated Cochrane admitted to being "disappointed" in himself for resorting to dishonesty to fund his lifestyle.

But the court heard he was now drug-free and highly motivated to attend rehab to work through the factors which led to his drug addiction.

In fact, he had already self-referred to a facility, which the judge commended him on.

On the charges, a start point of 24 months' imprisonment was adopted.

After credit was applied for Cochrane's guilty plea, a $14,000 payment he had volunteered from his KiwiSaver, and addiction and head injury factors, an end sentence of six months home detention was imposed.

The sentence will begin in December once Cochrane has completed his current term of home detention.

Reparation of $50,378 was ordered, with $14,000 having to be paid within 28 days.

* This story was originally published on the New Zealand Herald.