6 May 2016

More convictions under Operation Bronze

A housing officer who took a £2,000 backhander every time she processed a fake homelessness claim for illegal immigrants as part of a £2.4million council scam has been jailed.

Trudy Ali-Balogun, 55, of Stratford, east London, abused her role as a £25,000 a year housing officer at Southwark Council to help process 24 bogus homelessness claims.

She was paid a £2,000 bribe for each application she approved and used the money to treat herself to holidays around the world, Inner London Crown Court heard.

Ali-Balogun approved false birth certificates for children who never existed, as well as made-up wage slips, bank statements and fake foreign passports.

She was jailed for five years while fraudsters Biayo Awotiwon, 47, and Adeyemi Oyedele, 48, were given five months each. Kudiartu Falana, 60, was handed a five month jail sentence suspended for 12 months and ordered to complete 200 hours of community service. Joseph Olaiya, 53, was sentenced to six months suspended for 12 months and ordered to complete 200 hours of community service.

See a pattern here?

Their trial was part of the wider investigation known as Operation Bronze which has been running since 2011 and has so far yielded more than 30 convictions.

Ibrahim Bundu, a former homeless housing case worker, was previously jailed at Woolwich Crown Court for processing false homeless housing applications in return for backhanders. He is currently serving a six year sentence after failing to pay back the £100,000 ordered by the courts.

Ali-Balogun, who studied criminology at university, was processing bogus applications while working alongside Bundu from November 2003 until her suspension in April 2005. Many of the applicants she helped within the Nigerian community were in the country illegally. Ali-Balogun also processed false birth certificates for children to help the fraudsters jump the housing queue.

Michael Goodwin, prosecuting, explained that the fraud cost the council about £2.4million and left genuine homeless people without a roof above their heads: ‘She sought to exploit and capitalise in the weaknesses and procedures which were clearly in place at the time. Her misconduct represents an abuse of trust placed in her by the local authority.’

Mr Goodwin explained that the case worker was paid at least £20,000 in backhanders and used the bungs to fund trips abroad: ‘Part of her function and responsibility was to protect the public purse by ensuring only those in need of homeless housing were granted it. She acted for financial reward and that would have been paid to her directly by applicants or by third party fixers who were working in the community.’

The prosecutor explained that the offences took place when there was a significant shortage of housing available, something which remains the case. Taxpayers' money was being used to subsidise housing for fraudsters who claimed to be homeless despite owning other properties.

Ali-Balogun was said to have been responsible for 24 applications which she knew contained forged signatures as part of the ‘sophisticated’ arrangement. ‘Only she could have known that it was not being signed as it should have been,’ said Mr Goodwin.

Bogus National Insurance numbers belonging to genuine people were also used along with ‘fake Home Office vignettes’ granting indefinite leave to remain in the UK. In some cases the Home Office had no records of the applicants ever existing in the country.

Mr Goodwin said at least 20 properties were occupied by tenants who were not entitled to them.

Some of the defendants even used ‘bogus’ birth certificates in order to pretend they had children which would speed up their applications, among other benefits. ‘If they had two or three children they were entitled to bigger properties which the council had to find from their waiting list.’

Four applicants - including Falana - ended up buying the properties at a reduced price as a result of their deception using the Government’s ‘Right To Buy’ scheme. These properties are now likely to be subject to county court proceedings to determine whether they should be handed back.

Oyedele a former assistant to the Nigerian High Commissioner, is refusing to leave his Bermondsey flat, the court heard.

Falana obtained a four bedroom property in central London after previously being rejected for homeless housing due to her children not having indefinite leave to remain in the UK. She bought it in 2007 at a £60,000 discount under the Right to Buy scheme.

Olaiya used three ‘bogus’ children to help further his claim along with a fake passport when he was unlawfully in the country after previously been deported.

Oyedele was found to have ‘considerable funds’ in his bank account and did not have indefinite leave to remain in the UK and no evidence was ever found that he had any real children.

Awotiwon purchased a flat in Southwark, with a mortgage in 2004 for around £172,000 which she was letting out while claiming to need homeless housing. She received £226,000 of housing over a 12 year period and is refusing to leave. Mr Goodwin said she was essentially ‘a landlord while claiming to be homeless’.

The court also heard that Ali-Balogun herself had previously applied for a council home as a result of domestic violence.

Operation Bronze started in 2011 and was based on the review of suspicious data matches from the Cabinet Office’s National Fraud Initiative (NFI) and the Metropolitan Police Operation Amberhill. So far 30 fraudsters have been convicted and 41 properties have been recovered and re-let to those with a genuine need for housing.

Ali-Balogun was found guilty of misconduct in public office. Awotiwon, of Southwark; Oyedele, of Bermondsey; and Falana, of Walworth, were each convicted of a single count of obtaining services by deception. Olaiya, of Gillingham, Kent, was found guilty of attempting to obtain services by deception.

Jailing Ali-Balogun for five years Judge Mark Bishop said: ‘You carried out these applications in such a way to make it look like you had carried out the correct procedures. Social housing, in particular in central London, is scarce. People wait in the queue for many years for council accommodation. By your misconduct you reduced the housing amount of available housing stock for genuine homeless applicants.’

When no housing was available the council had to place those looking for a home in B&B accomodation leaving the local taxpayer to foot the bill, said Judge Bishop. ‘You carried out this conduct for backhand and the jury found you were dishonest. You would not have processed any of these applications which were being made without this money. It seems to me very likely that you were paid more than £20,000. You would not have done it without being paid for it. This was a very serious abuse of public trust that was placed in you. You took advantage of your position as a public official. You conduct was serious and corrupt, it was not conduct for a public official to engage in.’


5 May 2016

Holidaying on benefits

A benefit cheat who fiddled about £40,000 in benefits enjoyed holidays to Egypt and Tenerife at taxpayers' expense before she was caught out, a court heard. (h/t Dave)

Lying Kirsty Trotter said that her partner was not living with her – but he opened the door to investigators in pyjamas and dressing gown.

The 27-year-old pocketed a swathe of benefits by claiming she was a single mum of two, Plymouth Crown Court heard. But she went on two family holidays to Tenerife and one to Egypt using her partner's money.

Judge Ian Lawrie sent Trotter to the cells briefly but handed her a suspended prison sentence. He added: "You are a good mother. I do not see why I should impose a sentence upon your two children for your dishonesty."

The court heard that Trotter was in and out of a relationship with Dustin White over the period. They have since split up. Their child was born during the time she was claiming benefit as a single woman.

Judge Lawrie said: "Her personal relationships are of no concern to this court. She should have been honest." Trotter, from Kings Tamerton, pleaded guilty to six counts of dishonestly failing to notify a change of circumstances affecting a benefit claim. She admitted two similar charges of failing to disclose information.

Julia Cox, prosecuting for the Department for Work and Pensions, said Trotter dishonestly pocketed income support, housing benefit, council tax relief and child tax credits from May until November 2010 and again between November 2011 and January 2014. Miss Cox said that Trotter only admitted falsely claiming benefit during the earlier period and from June 2012 to January 2014. The court heard that she was either overpaid £37,802 or £45,377, depending on the period.

She was certainly industrious in claiming benefits.

Miss Cox said she was paid the benefits as a single mother – but at times she was living with Mr White, who was working. She added that Trotter filled in forms every year saying that her circumstances had not changed.

Miss Cox said that her home was kept under surveillance and investigators found evidence that they were living together, for example having joint insurance on a car. She added that when officials knocked on her door they were answered by Mr White wearing pyjamas and a dressing gown.

Miss Cox said: "Text messages were found on mobile phones which showed an ongoing intimate relationship between them."

The court heard that investigators found the family had been on two holidays to Tenerife and one to Egypt. She said Mr White may have paid for the trips from his wages but the benefits were saving him from spending the money running the household.

Ali Rafati, for Trotter, said she was unlikely to appear before a criminal court again. He added that she was now working part-time and still receiving benefits. Mr Rafati said she was already paying back the cash she owed at a rate of £180 a month, which will take more than a decade.

Judge Lawrie handed Trotter a six-month prison sentence suspended for 18 months and ordered her to carry out 50 hours of unpaid work.


4 May 2016

What about the rest of the money?

A wealthy couple claimed more than £43,000 in benefits while having a small fortune in the bank, a court heard. (h/t Dave)

Fraudsters Edwin and Lynda Brain profited from housing benefits and pension credits during a time when £256,000 was paid into family bank accounts. But the pensioners kept their healthy bank balance secret as they cheated the taxpayer for seven years.

Brain, 68, and his 71-year-old wife, from Pencoed near Bridgend, South Wales, pleaded guilty to two charges of fraud. He was jailed for 12 months and his wife given an eight-month suspended sentence.

Prosecutor Patrick Llewelyn said that the funds of more than £250,000 had gone into their bank accounts from Edwin Brain's job as a taxi and bus driver and from other 'unknown sources'.

Mrs Brain admitted failing to disclose £67,000 that came from the sale of the family home while her husband failed to disclose her savings when he made an application for housing and council tax benefit.

Mr Llewelyn said Mrs Brain had applied for pension credit for them both in 2004 saying they had no savings and her husband's income was £85-a-week.

In 2007 she received £67,337 from the sale of a house and a year later Mr Brain applied for housing benefit saying his wife was on pension credits and he earned £100 each week from his job as a taxi driver.

Mr Llewellyn said: 'It was established that Mrs Brain had applied for pension credit for them as a couple and that was the passport to other benefits. If the bank accounts had been disclosed then further checks would have been carried out and there would have been yearly reviews.'

Prosecutors said the pair failed to disclose Mr Brain's earnings from Radio Cabs for whom he was a driver. They also failed to disclose income from Peyton Travel - a company owned by their son - and other 'unknown sources'. Mr Brain was earning £100 a week from Peyton Travel, which the judge described as 'an understatement'.

Christopher Rees, mitigating for Mrs Brain, said: 'She is a 71-year-old woman who is of entirely clean character. She is genuinely remorseful that, at her age, she has come to this.'

The housing benefit fraud cost Bridgend Council £3,600 while the fraudulent pension credits from the Department of Work and Pensions amounted to more than £39,000.

Judge Michael Fitton QC told the couple: 'There was a lengthy failure to make a true declaration of your financial position and this fraudulent activity was substantial.'

Sentencing, he added Mr Brain had shown 'little remorse' for his actions after stating: 'There are thousands of other people doing it.'

The judge said: 'These offences are so serious that they are only appropriately dealt with by means of a prison sentence and I am not persuaded it would be appropriate to suspend it.'

His barrister said his Mr Brain 'acknowledged his guilt' and had already repaid £4,000, indicating his 'good intentions'.

The court heard that Mr Brain had debts of £60,000.

Source with pictures of the pair and their house

3 May 2016

£40k benefit thief gets reference from MP & new car

A conman on crutches who pleaded guilty to a £40,000 benefits fraud received a government-funded, £30,000 motability car just weeks after the trial.

Ex-soldier Clive Miller, 47, claimed £20,000 of income support and a £20,000 in Disability Living Allowance, even though he had £280,000 in his bank accounts and several properties in Spain and Northern Ireland.

He walked free from Dungannon Crown Court, Northern Ireland, in February, with a 12-month jail term which the judge suspended for two years.

Despite his criminal record, shameless Miller is now driving a £30,000 Ford S-Max car which is government-funded and comes with a raft of free benefits including a new car every three years. This includes insurance from RSA Motability (RSAM), breakdown assistance, servicing, maintenance and repairs.

Locals in the Coleshill estate in Enniskillen, where he lives, were furious after Miller arrived in his new luxury Motability car just weeks after he held his hands up to the 10-year scam at Dungannon Crown Court.

The former Royal Irish Regiment soldier turned up for every court appearance struggling on a set of crutches and stood in the dock while being sentenced using the walking aids for stability.

But on Thursday morning Miller was seen virtually skipped down his steps at his Coleshill Crescent home.

The tattooed conman - who the judge described in court as a 'broken man' - managed the steps down to his new set of wheels without crutches.

Reporters asked him if he thought it was right that he was handed a new car as part of a publicly funded scheme after what he did but he just walked away and back into his house - although this time he moved a bit slower and held the top of his neck as he made his way slowly up the steps.

They asked him if he wanted to apologise to the public for his shameless crimes but once again he had nothing to say.

Miller lives in one of two properties he owns in Coleshill Crescent - he rents out the other house which is next door.

Sources in Enniskillen have said they are shocked Miller has been given new benefits.

'We couldn't believe it when he drove into the park with a car that looked like it had just been driven straight out of the showroom,' said one resident, who asked not to be named. 'He conned the taxpayer out of thousands of pounds claiming DLA and dole while all the time he had a property portfolio and several secret bank accounts. How can this be fair to people who go out every day to earn a living? It was bad enough that he didn't spend a single day in jail for his crimes but this is taking the biscuit.'

Other charges including money laundering were left on the books during the case which dragged on for three years, costing the public another small fortune in legal fees as Miller was granted legal aid while he contested the charges until the last minute.

His wife was also charged with benefit fraud in 2013 but those charges were later dropped and it was claimed in court that the pair had since separated.

Locals are also angry at the way Miller was portrayed in court as a 'broken man'.

The judge said he was 'a broken man both physically and mentally' and had 'brought disgrace on himself' by his appearance in court. He added that it had brought a personal cost as his marriage had ended and he now faced an uncertain future with a proceeds of crime order to determine what he has to repay.

It also emerged he was working in the Caribbean while claiming income support.

'Clive Miller is not a nice man at all and has managed to pull the wool over the eyes of the court,' said a source. 'The way he used his crutches as he struggled into court was a farce. He really played on that and they seemed to buy it.'

Locals in Enniskillen were also angry after it was claimed in court that Ulster Unionist MP for the area Tom Elliott had given a character reference to Miller. The judge made reference to this - describing it as 'glowing' - and locals say they felt it was this reference that had kept Miller from being sent to prison.

Source with pictures

29 Apr 2016

Jail for repeat benefit fraud

A benefits cheat who fraudulently claimed more than £100,000 said he was "virtually unable to walk" when he had a full-time job. (h/t Dave)

Stanley Murray, 56, who successfully appealed to have his disability benefits increased, also claimed he was "unable to prepare a cooked meal". But as well as holding down his day job, "preparing and hanging" doors on vehicles, he also worked as a guitarist in the evenings.

Murray claimed a total of £112,078.18 in disability living allowance, income support, and housing and council tax benefits in a seven-year fraud.

Jailing him for a year at Hull Crown Court, Recorder Darren Preston told him:
That is a very large amount of public money that you took, and in these times of public austerity, honest and decent taxpayers are entitled to believe, or at least hope, that their taxes are going to essential public services, or to people who desperately need it and can't work, not to line your trousers and go into your pockets when you are perfectly capable of work.
Murray, who admitted four counts of failing to notify a change in his circumstances, and one of making a false representation, committed the offences between March 10, 2008, and June 22, last year.

Prosecutor Stephen Robinson said when Murray appealed to get a higher rate of disability benefit, he said he was "virtually unable to walk", and was "unable to prepare a cooked meal for one person". Five days after receiving the increased benefit, he started a full-time job at Paneltex Ltd. Mr Robinson said it was "a physical job to a certain extent".

When arrested and interviewed by police, Murray, who suffered a brain aneurysm more than ten years ago, said he "wanted to save money for his family as he thought he would die at any moment, and wanted them to have money for his funeral and other bills. He said he couldn't cook a meal because he didn't know how to cook," Mr Robinson said.

Murray, of Crayford Close, east Hull, was jailed for 12 months in the 1990s for obtaining property by deception and false accounting, which related to benefits fraud. He also received an "administrative penalty" when he had "worked briefly with a band as a guitarist", but this was not a criminal conviction, the court heard.

You'd think this might have put the benefits administration on enquiry. But evidently no.

Ian Brook, for Murray, said he played the guitar with his son for "therapy". Murray had decided to take the Paneltex job after attending a back-to-work interview.

He told the judge: "In my submission, many people would have said, 'I'm not going back to work. I'm going to stay at home holding out my hand and take money from the state'. He did seek to be a contributing member of society."

The judge said: "Most people would have gone back to work and told the authorities."

Mr Brook said Murray was remorseful and was "truly sorry for his family" as he had brought shame on them. The amount the authorities were seeking to recover was £103,000, but he did not seek an adjournment to contest the prosecution's figures.

Murray had so far repaid £421.13, the court heard.


28 Apr 2016

Recidivist benefit thief rightly jailed

A cunning mum-of-two stole the identity of a friend and used it to carry out a 10-year benefit fraud. (h/t Dave)

On the surface, the 53-year-old claimed to live a chaotic lifestyle...but secretly the woman who boasted two A levels was carrying out a sophisticated scam.

And even when pink-haired Anne Brearley, 53, was caught out, she refused to accept she was a crook.

However, a judge told Brearley, from Westgate-on-sea that she was a “cunning and imaginative” fraudster.

And Recorder George Pulman QC jailed her for 20 months after revealing that when police raided her home they discovered store cards in three different names.

Canterbury Crown Court heard how she used the name and identity documents of a friend who moved to Ireland to defraud Thanet District Council, the Department of Works and Pensions and HMRC.

She pocketed a total of more than £61,000 in Jobseekers Allowance, housing benefits and child tax allowances.

Prosecutor Andrew Espley said the frauds began in March 2003....while she was under a 12-month conditional discharge sentence for an identical offence:

“This is a very serious case. It was almost immediately she went on to commit these further offences which were sophisticated. She stole as much as she could get her hands on for quite a long period of time".

The court heard how Brearley, who has previous convictions for theft and benefit fraud, also claimed benefits for two children who didn’t live at her home.

Kieran Brand, defending, said she was a single mother, moving from area to area and struggling to cope.

“This money wasn’t spent on fast cars. She just wanted to provide for her teenage son. She also suffers from depression and anxiety.” He asked the judge to suspend any jail sentence after saying she was now motivated to keep her life in order.

The judge said he rejected her claim to have lived a chaotic lifestyle telling her she had been “highly organised and calculating”:
You have quite deliberately deceived the benefits agency, obtained bank accounts, given false details. When you want money from the state you fabricate documents with such care.

You have demonstrated extensive skills and cunning in fabricating these claims.


27 Apr 2016

Blue badge fraud takes ages to get to court

A builder’s financial problems were worsened when he was fined for using a photocopy of his father’s disabled parking permit to avoid having to feed the meter while he worked in central Croydon. (h/t Dave)

Adam Mansfield, from Rainham, Essex, admitted the charge at Croydon Magistrates’ Court on 19 April, and was fined £150 and ordered to pay £200 prosecution costs.

The court was told that, on 27 July last year, a council civil enforcement officer spotted a car, parked in Bedford Place, displaying what appeared to be a photocopy of a blue badge parking permit. A penalty charge notice was issued and the car impounded.

When collecting the vehicle, Mansfield said the badge was valid and that he had been driving his father, who was the registered holder.

Officers of the council’s fraud team spoke to Mansfield’s father, who said he had not been with the defendant at the time of the offence. In a subsequent interview, Mansfield admitted to the investigators that he had photocopied his father’s permit and had obtained a blue-badge clock from a friend.

When questioned about his actions, he stated that he was experiencing financial hardship and, while working in the vicinity of Bedford Place, had used the permit to avoid parking fees.

Councillor Mark Watson, cabinet member for communities, safety and justice, said:
Here’s a case that shows that crime definitely doesn’t pay.

This man fraudulently used a blue-badge parking permit with the express intention of saving a few pounds in parking fees. That small saving has now cost him £350 in fines and costs – and, more seriously, earned him a criminal record.

Blue badges are issued to motorists with a genuine need but, sadly, there are other motorists keen to try to take advantage of the benefits for their own selfish ends. They might get away with it one, two, three times, but they will eventually be caught, and when they are, they will be prosecuted and pay the price, both financially and reputationally.

26 Apr 2016

Benefit thief mother avoids jail

An Ingleby Barwick mum has narrowly escaped jail after fraudulently claiming more than £33,000 in benefits.

Teesside Crown Court heard how Sarah Linkse applied for tax credits she was not entitled to for around four years “on the basis that she was was single and on a low wage”, despite actually living with her partner.

The total payments made to Linksey, a mum-of-one and with another child “on the way”, was £33,575, between November 2010 and January 2015.

She had earlier admitted to two charges - one of being knowingly concerned in fraudulent activity with a view to obtaining tax credit, and another of dishonestly making a false statement to obtain a benefit.

The court heard that Linksey was facing a jail term as the amount fraudulently claimed was more than £30,000.

Alex Bousfield, defending, said Linksey was previously of good character. He added: “She is clearly very anxious about what’s happened. She no longer is in receipt of benefits. She has one child and another on the way. She has learned her lesson and is very remorseful about what’s happened.”

Judge Howard Crowson told Linksey: “Benefit fraud costs everyone, which is why it’s taken so seriously.”

However, he acknowledged that she had a child to take care of, and another on the way, and said he could see no real benefit to an immediate jail sentence.

He gave Linksey a 36-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months. She was also ordered to attend 10 days of a rehabilitation activity.


What actual punishment did she get? Do we get our money back?

21 Apr 2016

Angus Council reports recovering £350k

Angus Council has delivered a blow to council tax and benefits cheats which has seen £368,000 of recoverable cash identified and a clutch of council homes seized back.

The authority’s Counter Fraud Team (CFT) underwent major change last year when responsibility for investigating allegations of housing benefit fraud in Angus transferred to the Department for Work and Pensions.

However, the council team continues to identify benefit overpayments and other corporate fraud work remains the responsibility of the council.

Investigators have made effective use of techniques such as data matching to link single person council tax discounts to the electoral roll and the council’s education database.

The council’s scrutiny and audit committee welcomed a report detailing the success of the recovery initiatives which revealed a breakdown of £181,308 of identified housing/council tax benefit overpayments and £79,640 DWP administered benefits overpayments.

The remainder of the recovered total related to payments including single person discounts.

The document also highlighted tenancy fraud, describing it as one of the most significant areas of fraud committed against local authorities. It can include unlawful subletting, failure to use a property as a principal home or using false information to gain a council tenancy. A joint approach involving counter fraud staff and housing colleagues has seen four council properties recovered and two tenancy successions denied.

Governance and consultancy service manager Janine Wilson told councillors: “The team went through a fairly substantial change but all in all it has been a very successful year.”

However, report author Janet Hutchison warned: “In the forthcoming year, the risk of the council being subject to fraud and corruption is not likely to reduce. To ensure that the council maintains its strong counter fraud arrangements, the CFT will continue to carry out data matching exercises to identify fraud and error; publicise, promote and enforce the counter fraud and corruption strategy and framework; continue to develop joint working arrangements with colleagues in housing and will liaise with other local authorities in areas of best practice.”

Scrutiny and audit convener, Councillor Bob Spink said: “Recovering in excess of £360,000 is a very credible achievement and this is good news for the council.”


15 Apr 2016

£18k benefit thief will have to sell home

A benefit cheat who was caught playing bowls and being a greenkeeper when he claimed he was unable to walk will have to sell his house to pay off an £18,000 legal bill, a court heard. (h/t Dave)

John Larder, from Huncoat, received £18,646 in disability living allowance over a five-year period from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) after claiming he could only walk eight yards and needed help getting dressed, bathing and ‘cutting up his meat’.

A surveillance operation caught the 63-year-old playing bowls at Burnley Road Bowling Club in Accrington and also ‘pushing a trolley’ at Aldi.

Larder pleaded guilty to failing to notify the DWP of a change in circumstances affecting his entitlement to disability living allowance and was previously given a 20-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months.

He has now been ordered to pay back £18,179.07 in three months or face 10 weeks in prison following a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing at Burnley Crown Court.

Steven Wild, prosecuting, told the court that the figure takes into account some money he has already paid back.

Robert Elias, defending, said Larder was a man of previous good character and he ‘has an element of sympathy for him’. He told the court: “He had cancer and is in remission. He had done his hobby of cutting the grass at his bowling club and playing bowls. He got dobbed in by someone who thought therefore he shouldn’t be claiming. The consequence of that is he and his wife are going to have to sell their home. He has still got the cancer and is slightly better now than he was. He is now properly receiving benefits. He is going to have to put his house on the market and sell it as that is his asset. Whether one can do that successfully in three months is unlikely in truth, even with the best will in the world. He is doing up the spare bedroom at present before he puts it on the market. He knows he has to sell it and hopefully it will go quickly. Realistically he should be able to sell it in six months.”

Judge Beverley Lunt said if Larder hasn’t sold his house and paid off the legal bill by July then he could apply the court to extend the period a further three months.

Source, with short video