knew welfare would be suspended
SUDBURY - Kimberly Rogers was aware her social assistance benefits would be suspended following her conviction for welfare fraud, her former defense counsel testified Thursday at the coroner's inquest into her death.
Andrew Buttazzoni said the suspension of benefits was discussed with his client before her court appearance April 25,2001, when she pleaded guilty to the charge.
I knew there was a suspension," he said. "I told her to call her case worker and find out the length (of the suspension)."
Buttazzoni said Rogers called him back two days before her April court appearance and informed him that she had spoken to her case worker and that the suspension would be for 90 days.
"That was information I got from her," he said.
Rogers, 40, was sentenced in April 2001 to a six-month conditional sentence that included house arrest. she was allowed to leave her apartment for three hours a week to shop and to attend medical appointments and religious services. She was also permitted to leave for other purposes with the permission of her conditional sentence supervisor.
Rogers died in August 2001 during a heat wave and was eight months pregnant. The cause of death was a lethal overdose of anti-depressants.
Buttazzoni testified that he and Rogers also had a conversation before her sentencing dealing with the lack of income during her welfare suspension "and she gave me information on how she was to cope."
Did Kimberly Rogers know about the welfare suspension?" asked coroner's counsel Al O'Marra.
"Yes. She is the one who told me," Buttazzoni said.
An affidavit signed by Rogers May 13, 2001 stated her lawyer (Buttazzoni) had not informed her about the automatic suspension of welfare benefits upon her conviction.
Rogers won an interim order in May 2001 to restore her welfare benefits and a charter challenge on the welfare ban was mounted. She died before the case was heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Butttazzoni said Rogers committed a fraud from a government agency that he described as a "quasi breach of trust" and that she was being relied upon to "report certain things to assess her entitlement" of social assistance.
He also agreed that the specific times for her to leave the house (three hours per week to shop), requested by the Crown, was not unreasonable.
"The way (the sentence) would have been structured was broad...and technically unenforceable," Buttazzoni said.
He said it was broadened when he asked that she could go out any time with the permission of her supervisor.
"Was this an appropriate disposition?" asked O'Marra.
"I wouldn't recommend it to a client if I didn't think it was appropriate," Buttazzoni said.
Both he and the Crown presented a joint submission on sentencing. Sudbury assistant Crown attorney Alex Kurke testified the maximum sentence for fraud over $5,000, which Rogers was charged with, is 10 years in jail.
"Cases like this magnitude, in my view, could attract 60 to 90 days in jail," he said. "Her intent was to defraud...she was plainly aware she couldn't receive both (welfare and student loans)."
Rogers failed to inform Ontario Works she was a full-time student at Cambrian College while collecting benefits. She also received about $32,000 in student loans. Rogers graduated with an honours diploma in social services in 2001.
Since she defrauded welfare for a period of three years, Kurke said it was an "obvious factor" why her sentence was appropriate and she was an "appropriate candidate" to send a message to the community.
"Welfare fraud has to be treated severely," Kurke said. " The government agency relies on people to be honest with them in order to figure out what they get.