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Woman evades jail for bilking feds on pension

Collected dead mom's OAS benefits

A Winnipeg grandmother won't see real jail time after admitting Tuesday she bilked the federal government out of nearly $120,000 in Old Age Security benefits paid to her dead mother.

Luisa Alcantara, 72, pleaded guilty in provincial court to infractions under the Old Age Security and Excise Tax acts. Prosecutors dropped a criminal fraud charge.

From July 1996 to November 2006, Alcantara continued to collect and spend OAS pension benefits paid into a bank account jointly held by her and her mother, Maria Santos, who died at age 86 in her native Philippines in June 1996.

Alcantara personally signed the death certificate, stated an agreed statement of facts presented to Judge Margaret Wiebe.

Wiebe reluctantly agreed to accept a joint deal on sentencing arrived at by the Crown and defence lawyer Richard Wolson.

The deal saw Alcantara handed a conditional sentence of 18 months to be served in the community under certain restrictions, including a house-arrest curfew for a portion of the term.

Wiebe's chief concern with the arrangement centred on uncertainties over when and if Alcantara would repay the ill-gotten money through a standalone restitution order in the amount of $119,374. It's now up to the federal government to reclaim the money in civil court if it chooses.

Alcantara has nothing of value other than the condo she owns, court heard.

"My concern is Revenue Canada (Canada Revenue Agency) and the people of Canada are out the money you took," Wiebe told Alcantara, who cried several times during the hearing.

Wolson assured Wiebe federal enforcement officers are aware of the situation and could take action against her at any time. "This hasn't been hidden from them in any way," he said.

Wiebe also noted the agreed facts contained no explanation for Alcantara's actions.

Wolson said the retired St. Boniface Hospital housekeeper's actions amounted to "foolishness," and pointed to her admission of guilt as proof she accepts the mistakes she made.

"It is a mistake," said Wiebe. "A very, very large mistake," she said, noting Alcantara's conduct -- which went on for years -- was deliberate.

Things began to unravel for Alcantara in June 2006, when the government requested an update on her mother's case. Alcantara filled out the form, saying her mother had recently moved home to her native Philippines.

A specific line on the form to be filled out if she was deceased was left blank, the statement of facts said.

By November 2006, payment of the benefits was suspended after no response was given about when Santos had moved. It wasn't until June 2010 that Service Canada confirmed Santos's death and the RCMP were asked to investigate. They learned annual tax returns in Santos's name had been prepared by an accounting firm and electronically filed during the offence period.

The returns reported only the OAS pension income.

A police review of bank records for the Alcantara-Santos joint account showed the only money that went in was from the government, generally in the amount of $1,000 a month. Withdrawals were typically under $300.

"The exceptions were a withdrawal of $3,000 in April 2000, a purchase of $1,240 at a travel agent in May 2000 and a purchase of $1,000 at a jewelry store in January 2003," the statement of facts said.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

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