Melbourne mother Sarah Ward convicted of Medicare fraud

A Melbourne mother and her young son will spend at least 12 months behind bars after stealing nearly $200,000 from Medicare while working at a medical clinic.

Sarah Ward made more than 1600 false claims to Medicare, sometimes as many as 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 cheating while working in the medical field.

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Ward had just served a sentence for stealing $29,000 from Cabrini Hospital, where she worked for five years before being released.

On Friday, District Court Judge Geoff Chettle sentenced Ward to two years in prison and sentenced her to at least 12 months in prison after she pleaded guilty to a single charge of obtaining financial benefit by deception from a Commonwealth entity.

Ward stole $181,121.75 from Medicare between March 2019 and April 2020.

The false claims of 1609 included 781 in her name and 828 for her husband, with refunds sent to bank accounts for both.

Her fraud was exposed when Medicare’s accountants and authorities brought it to the attention of the authorities.

Sarah Ward leaves Victorian County Court in Melbourne this week. Credit: Julian Smith/AAP

Ward told a psychologist she believes she’s underpaid and wants to keep up with wealthier friends — and be able to buy better clothes for her kids and a better car.

Chettle said Ward wanted to keep up with the lifestyle she saw on social media.

Unless she can openly prove her worthiness by accumulating the outward trappings of success, she believes she is destined to face repeated rejection and remain on the periphery of social groups, he said.

Their offenses involved planning and sophistication, were repetitive, and lasted a long time.

The amount she received was substantial, and she had openly betrayed the trust placed in her by her employers, Chettle said.

Ward was released from the clinic when the crime was exposed and then went to work for a psychology practice unaware of its crimes.

She has been on maternity leave since February last year but appears destined to lose that job once in prison, the judge said.

The court had previously heard that Ward repaid the money in full by taking $100,000 from a mortgage settlement account and selling a $70,000 car. She also borrowed money from her mother.

Ward’s youngest child is taken into care with her as part of Corrections Victoria’s Living with Mum program. Credit: AAP

Ward has two children, ages one and three.

The youngest is being held with her as part of Corrections Victoria’s Living with Mum programme.

Former colleague Vanessa Whitelaw attended Ward’s court hearings to secure closure after a traumatic time at the close-knit workplace.

Employees wondered about Ward’s lavish lifestyle, Whitelaw said.

“We thought it was very odd — 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 would we have thought this was going on behind the scenes.”

A man dies after being set on fire in a neighborhood dispute.

A man dies after being set on fire in a neighborhood dispute. Melbourne mother Sarah Ward convicted of Medicare fraud

James Brien

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