After finding decapitated rabbits on her doorstep, receiving death threats, suffering a breakdown and losing her political career, Karyn Paluzzano has reinvented herself as an English teacher to refugee children.
But if the disgraced former New South Wales Labor MP is sent to prison for rorting her parliamentary entitlements and lying to the corruption watchdog, she will lose her right to work in the classroom, her lawyers say.
"If she is given a jail sentence she will never be able to work in teaching again, she will never be able to be a politician, it will absolutely destroy her," Paluzzano's barrister, Kate Traill, told Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court yesterday.
In June, Paluzzano pleaded guilty to obtaining money by deception and giving false evidence to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Yesterday, she said she was "extremely sorry and remorseful" for signing 18 sitting-day relief forms for various staff members in 2006 and 2007, which contained false information.
"I was a public figure so I let down my community in a huge way," she said, in tears.
Paluzzano said she "panicked" when first questioned by the ICAC investigators in April 2010, but made "full and frank disclosures" during a public hearing a month later. During that time she suffered a breakdown and was prescribed Valium.
The former member for Penrith told the court she had been under tremendous stress after one of her staffers, Tim Horan, regularly failed to turn up to work, bullied other staff in the electorate office and accessed online gambling sites at work.
During the period Mr Horan's performance was managed and he was eventually suspended, Paluzzano said she received anonymous letters, including death threats, and two decapitated rabbits were left on her doorstep.
"I was in fear of my life," she said.
The court heard Paluzzano had no evidence to prove Mr Horan was the culprit, but he was strongly suspected.
It was Mr Horan's report to the ICAC that sparked the investigation into Paluzzano.
I was a public figure so I let down my community in a huge way.
Ms Traill said in sentencing the 52-year-old, that Deputy Chief Magistrate Jane Culver should take into account the "assistance" Paluzzano had given authorities. Exactly what type of help she gave was revealed only to Ms Culver in a confidential exhibit.
Ms Traill said Paluzzano did not receive any personal financial benefit as a result of signing the falsified forms, but about $4200 of taxpayers' money was paid to an electorate staffer.
Since resigning from Parliament in 2010, Paluzzano has returned to work as a teacher and has undertaken a post-graduate degree in teaching English as a second language.
The Crown prosecutor, Tom Warr, said a conviction of giving false or misleading evidence was punishable by jail unless a court found special circumstances.
Paluzzano will be sentenced on September 6.