Rita Mercuri hasn't worked in 27 years, so why are authorities now chasing her?
Mercuri is a self-confessed rorter of the welfare system. She claimed to be wheelchair-bound, needing round the clock care and unable to return to work, and taxpayers handed her $112,000.
Though Mercuri did have her left leg amputated below the knee after a workplace accident almost 30 years ago and hasn't worked a day since, she is actually not wheelchair-bound. She is therefore being pursued for fraud committed between 2008 and 2010 when WorkCover Victoria paid her almost $60,000 in direct compensation.More stories from Today Tonight
However, that was just the start. She also recruited six carers who allegedly submitted false time-sheets and received payment for hours they didn't work, splitting the proceeds with Mercuri. She made an extra $52,000 with that little scam.
Footage of her in action in the 2006 Commonwealth Games Baton Relay, with the help of a prosthetic leg was bound to raise suspicion, and prosecutors also had video of her moving freely using her prosthetic.
Today she arrived at court in a wheelchair instead.
Mercuri created a web of lies to hoodwink doctors and WorkCover officials about the extent of her injuries.
According to WorkSafe's Deputy Chief Executive Ian Forsyth "it seems to be a pretty extreme case. The person involved has pleaded guilty, but that should serve as a pretty strong warning to anyone out there who is tempted to go down that same path that there is a very strong chance you will be detected."
Channel Seven commentator Derryn Hinch says that such behaviour makes his blood boil.
"There are genuine people out there who have been hurt at work, broken a leg or done something, done their back in and can't work for five months or ten months, and should be getting paid. Employers pay a heap in WorkCover premiums, and it's being ripped off by the millions by frauds," he said.
Over the last two years in Queensland 21 people have been prosecuted for defrauding the system. In New South Wales there's been 88 prosecutions and 100 in Victoria. During that time the courts ordered almost $7 million to be repaid.
The warning to those trying to make an easy buck is this: "We investigate, we inspect, we'll prosecute if it's warranted, and we'll go all the way through to court proceedings," Forsyth warned.
This reporter is on Twitter at @tinekae
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