'Fake' baby used to extort dadBy Lisa Miller
FOR more than 18 months Debra Anne Dalton carried out an elaborate deception, collecting child support payments for a baby which never existed.
She conned her former partner, Matthew Wojtowicz into paying more than $23,000 in child support, medical bills, nappies and clothes.
She even produced a fake birth certificate and doctors' letters to prove little Reese James Wojtowicz existed.
Her well laid plans fell apart when Mr Wojtowicz became suspicious and contacted police in May last year.
Yesterday, in Sutherland Local Court, Ms Dalton escaped a jail sentence and was instead ordered to carry out 150 hours of community service.
Magistrate John Andrews said, while a crime such as hers would normally attract a custodial sentence, he was reluctant to do so because of Ms Dalton's emotional problems and the fact she had since had a baby with another man.
"What is being imposed today is an alternative to sending you to jail," he said.
"It's appropriate, I think, that it be brought home to you the seriousness of what you've done."
Mr Andrews said he was satisfied Ms Dalton felt contrition for her crime after she pleaded guilty last year, and that with psychiatric treatment it was possible she would be rehabilitated.
But Coral Slattery from the Family Law Reform Association, who has been supporting Mr Wojtowicz throughout the case, said a jail sentence should have been imposed.
"I was very disappointed. I think it could have been a harder sentence," she said.
"It's every man's nightmare."
Earlier Ms Dalton's counsel, Peter Kennedy, told the court his client had been a chronic liar since adolescence.
He said she was willing to pay back the money, despite having no income apart from the single parents allowance.
However no order regarding payment was made by Mr Andrews, which could force Mr Wojtowicz to take a civil case against his former girlfriend.
Ms Dalton, 22, from Beverley Hills, met Mr Wojtowicz when she was 14 and he was 18. They later had a nine-month relationship, which ended in April 1998, but a few months afterwards she phoned him to say she was pregnant.
What followed was an complex plan of deceit, starting with her sending Mr Wojtowicz photos of "his baby" and arranging access visits to which she never showed up.
Between October 1999 and April 2002 she sent him forged payment demands from the Child Support Agency and the Family Court, and a fake letter from a pediatric clinic in New York saying their child had a chronic kidney disorder.
Mr Wojtowicz was forced to sell his $35,000 car to keep up with the payments. He eventually quit his job in the public transport sector due to stress.
He was in court yesterday being supported by friends, but left before the sentence was handed down.
Ms Dalton, who was there with her parents, made a hurried exit from a side door after receiving her sentence.
Outside court Mr Kennedy said justice had been done for his client and he was happy with the result.
© The Australian