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24 Apr 2017

Benefit fraud by transgender TV 'star'

A reality TV star who boasted about earning £120,000 a year and being given expensive gifts was fraudulently claiming benefits, a court has heard.

Chelsey Harwood, 29 and of St Helens, admitted three benefit fraud offences involving a total of £25,156 between April 2013 and January 2016.

She was living in a "fantasy" world, judge Andrew Menary QC said.

Handing her a suspended jail term at Liverpool Crown Court, he warned her about her "unhealthy" lifestyle.

He said her claims for employment support allowance and housing benefit had initially been genuine but became false when she began earning from her self-employed work and moved from Liverpool to St Helens and made a fresh claim for housing benefit.

The former This is Liverpool and Celebrity Botched Up Bodies star, who is transgender, had boasted to an online magazine that she had made £120,000 by talking to men on a webcam.

Judge Menary said: "In those posts you bragged about your level of earnings, making what seems to me clearly extravagant claims about the amounts you were able to earn from payments and gifts."

He said whatever money she did have would have been spent "on her ordinary day-to-day living, rather an entirely hedonistic lifestyle as you were pretending".

He told Harwood that he recognised the fact that her "gender issues have complicated your life to this point and created challenges in the past and the unhealthy celebrity-type lifestyle you have sought to create, or courted online, means you have been living in a somewhat fantasy world. You have known for some time what you were doing was dishonest, there was nothing healthy about the lifestyle you chose or the other choices you made to project yourself online. You need to understand, sooner rather than later, that your future happiness and wellbeing lies in your own hands and requires you to adopt a much more responsible and constructive approach to life in future."

He sentenced her to four months' imprisonment, suspended for two years, and placed her under supervision for two years.

Ben Jones, prosecuting, told the court the prosecution could not say how much she was earning but she had "a measure of celebrity and was writing articles in Closer magazine. "There may have been some element of bragging" in those articles, he added.

John Rowan, defending, said that she had received media payments of £14,389 over the period of the offences, which was "relatively modest". He said his client was "remorseful and shameful for her actions".

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But she's not sorry.
When asked whether she’d apologise to taxpayers, she revealed she was “not one little bit sorry”.

She added: “I pay road tax, I pay cigarette tax. I pay my tax. I’m not saying sorry, I’m not sorry one little bit.”

23 Apr 2017

Leeds couple admit £24k benefit fraud

A former soldier from Leeds helped his partner carry out part of a benefit fraud as she falsely claimed just over £24,000 in housing benefits and tax credits.

Leeds Crown Court heard Sara Elliot, 34, failed to notify authorities of her change in circumstance when she and her three children moved from a three bedroom council house in Harehills to her partner David Pollard’s two-bedroom flat in Beeston in 2013.

Pollard, 35, had claimed to be Elliot’s landlord when the pair were living as a couple and a false tenancy agreement was submitted to claim housing benefit between September 2014 and March 2016.

A total of £19,494 was overpaid in tax credits and £4,626 housing benefit was overpaid. The couple have a child together but have since split up.

Elliot admitted three charges of benefit fraud and Pollard admitted one charge of assisting Elliot to commit benefit fraud.

The court heard Pollard had served in the army for nine years and did tours in Bosnia and Northern Ireland. He now works as a train conductor for Northern Rail.

Anna Moran, mitigating for Pollard, said: “He went to Asda and collected a pre-packed tenancy agreement and asked her to submit it for a housing benefit claim. He is extremely sorry for his involvement. The money was not used for any sort of frivolous lifestyle. The money was used to support the family.”

Nicoleta Alistari, mitigating for Elliot, said she is “ashamed and remorseful.”

Judge Mushtaq Khokhar sentenced both defendants to four month jail sentences, suspended for 18 months. Pollard was also ordered to do 200 hours unpaid community work.

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22 Apr 2017

PC jailed over benefit fraud lies

A West Midlands Police officer who lied to cover up a £20,000 benefit fraud has been jailed for a year.

PC Steven Cook initially denied he was in a relationship with his girlfriend who wrongly claimed housing, income support and council tax benefits over a two-and-a-half year period.

An investigation was carried out by Sandwell Council with the support of West Midlands Police and the 38 year-old later admitted perverting the course of justice.

He was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment and ordered to pay £750 costs at Wolverhampton Crown Court on Friday 21 April.

The officer - who was based in Birmingham when the allegations came to light - was suspended by the force. Following the sentencing he will now face gross misconduct disciplinary proceedings.

Chief Inspector Brian Carmichael, from the force’s Professional Standards Department, said: “We demand the highest standards from all our officers and PC Cook failed to show the level of honesty and integrity we expect from someone in such a position of trust."

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21 Apr 2017

Blue badge fraud priest twists and turns

A Brexhill priest who claims to provide pastoral care for the terminally ill has been found guilty of fraud charges after using a Blue Badge belonging to a deceased woman.

A jury found William Haymaker, 62, guilty of the offence when he appeared at Chichester Crown Court. A date for sentencing has yet to be set.

Haymaker, an ordained Anglican minister, was caught using the Blue Badge to park in a disabled bay in Western Road, Bexhill in December 2015. The holder of the badge had died in October 2015.

In interview Haymaker said he had meant to use a Blue Badge belonging to one or two other patients, one of whom he claimed to have dropped off at a doctor’s surgery in the town. Investigations found that neither of these statements were true.

Haymaker continued to plead his innocence and the case went to the crown court.

In his defence he named yet another woman who he had thought the badge had belonged to, although she has never owned a Blue Badge. When confronted with these facts, Haymaker then went on to claim that he had not realised he had parked in a disabled bay at all.

A jury took 45 minutes to unanimously find him guilty of possessing an article for use in a fraud.

Mark Jobling, East Sussex County Council’s enforcement officer who caught Haymaker misusing the Blue Badge, said: “This is in no way a victimless crime. Every time someone fraudulently uses a blue badge, they are taking up spaces which are needed by people who are genuinely disabled. We were disappointed that Haymaker consistently refused to admit the offence, but this case clearly demonstrates how seriously we take the misuse of Blue Badges. We hope this sends out a strong message that Blue Badge fraud will not be tolerated in East Sussex and that we won’t hesitate to prosecute offenders.”

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20 Apr 2017

Confiscation order for playboy model after benefit fraud

A glamour model who starred in a Playboy film has been ordered to repay £50,000 fraudulently claimed in disability benefits.

Julia Martinez, 45, claimed more than £44,000 over a three-year period despite earning money from photo shoots and movies. Martinez, who also runs a photography company, got £27,900 of income support and £14,112 of disability benefit. The Cheltenham resident claimed a further £2,178 in council tax relief before her home was raided in 2012.

Police found Martinez held bank accounts in the UK and overseas, including the Isle of Man and Jersey, a court heard.

She pleaded guilty to five charges of falsely claiming benefits and in 2015 got a nine-month jail sentence, suspended for one year. Now she has been slapped with a confiscation order for the sum of £50,000 under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

George Threlfall, QC, prosecuting, told the court Martinez had shown a "pattern of mendacity" in the two years since her conviction.

He claimed her available assets were "greater than" declared and she'd sold a Spanish property for 110,000 euros (£92,000). She'd also "failed to provide details for" bank accounts in Spain, Jersey and the Isle of Man, Mr Threlfall said.

He said: "Her available assets we say are much greater than what we can actually establish. The fact is she has been hiding assets. That in itself really casts a shadow. She sold a property in Spain for 110,000 euros and we don't know what happened to the money."

He added that she'd been ordered to repatriate money from her foreign accounts in 2012, but hadn't done so. "There has been no repayment of the monies obtained fraudulently which of course is … the purpose of these proceedings," he said.

Lisa Freeman, offering mitigation for Martinez, said "assumptions" could not be made on the extent of Martinez's wealth. She said: "Miss Martinez was sentenced on the basis that the application was not fraudulent from the outset. There was a change in her circumstances of which the DWP should have been informed - that's when the two other benefits kicked in."

Judge William Hart said there was "no actuarial evidence to substantiate" the argument that Martinez's claim had not been dishonest at the outset.

A court previously heard that inspectors found she had "appeared in a Playboy film". Details of the film were not disclosed, but it was released on DVD.

Martinez had a successful acting, modelling and photographic career and used an alias to send money to Spain in a bid to avoid detection.

She was given a confiscation order in the sum of £50,000, which she has three months to pay, under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The judge ruled £2,100 will be deducted from the full amount and paid as compensation to Cheltenham Borough Council. She will also be forced to pay £8,050 in costs. If she doesn't pay up, she will be jailed for nine months.

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18 Apr 2017

Plymouth benefit fraud couple told to repay over £32,000

A woman who claimed to be severely disabled while working in a bridal shop has been ordered to pay back more than £30,000 with her husband.

Christina Soulsby, aged 62, and Cyril Soulsby, aged 66, will have to sell a property to meet the debt or face a prison sentence, Plymouth Crown Court heard.

She pleaded guilty to an £11,000 benefit fraud after she was trapped by undercover surveillance.

Soulsby falsely claimed Disability Living Allowance on the basis that she had severe arthritis and other ailments, the court heard just before Christmas. And her husband Syd, aged 66, admitted fraudulently he had pocketed pension credit of more than £21,000 despite the fact that his wife was working.

They were handed prison sentences but summonsed back to the court under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Judge Paul Darlow ruled that Cyril Soulsby had to pay back £21,508 within three months or else face an eight-month prison sentence. He said that Christina Soulsby had to pay back £11,388 in the same period or she too could be locked up for eight months.

Mike Brown, for the Crown Prosecution Service, said their assets had been assessed as £59,000 each. He added they would have to sell property to meet the debt.

The couple, from Derriford, were handed a 26-week prison sentence suspended for two years. They must also pay £100 victim surcharge each.

Christina Soulsby worked at the Sam Cox salon in Southside Street, the Barbican. Investigators from the Department for Work and Pensions set up undercover surveillance outside the shop.

She claimed DLA without telling the DWP that her mobility had improved – allowing her to work. She also claimed Employment Support Allowance while failing to declare she was working beyond the permitted hours.

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13 Apr 2017

Deserved jail sentence for right to buy fraudster

This is good news. Right to buy fraud is a wicked crime, taking a property out of the social housing stock at a big discount under false pretences. In this instance he was caught in time, and given an 18 month prison sentence.

A conman who tried to buy a council flat under the Right to Buy scheme was jailed after officers discovered he was illegally subletting it. (h/t Tenancy Fraud)

Babak Karimaghaei, 37, claimed to be living in a bedsit in Park View on the Highbury Park Estate when he applied to buy it. But Islington Council’s housing investigations team discovered he was living somewhere else, and he was prosecuted before he could get a £103,000 discount.

On Friday, March 31 at Blackfriars Crown Court, Karimaghaei was convicted of fraud by false representation, and jailed for 18 months.

Sentencing him, judge Richardson said: “Immediate custody is required to punish a cynical abuse of a right intended for people who were really living in the house which they were applying to buy.”

Town hall housing boss Cllr Diarmaid Ward said Right-to-Buy fraud took housing away from the people who badly needed it and profited fraudsters like Karimaghaei. “We will investigate all suspected right-to-buy fraud, take legal action where there is evidence, and pursue the strongest penalties against offenders,” he said.

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"Single" benefit cheat posted wedding on Facebook

Every so often, someone claims benefits on the basis that they are single, when they're not. They then splash news of their wedding or honeymoon on Facebook, making their single parent benefit fraud rather obvious. Dave has noticed this latest example.

A woman who fraudulently claimed benefits as a single mother for nearly three years was caught when she posted her wedding photographs on Facebook.

Chanice Bowen, 25, of Barry, had told the Department for Work and Pensions she and her partner split up in January 2013, and her benefit payments rose. But she married him in October 2013, and went on to receive £22,000 she was not entitled to.

She was given a 10-month suspended sentence and told to repay the money.

Cardiff Crown Court heard the DWP had been told about Bowen's Facebook page, with a slideshow of wedding photographs captioned: "Best years of my life, loves my husband."

Prosecutor Andrew Davies said: "In January 2013 Bowen wrote a letter saying Lee Mapstone had left the family home. As a result she received an increase in benefits as a single parent and someone not in work. But they married at the civil register office on October 10, 2013."

When interviewed under caution in December 2015, she said she could not remember what she was doing on the day she married her partner Lee Mapstone.

Bowen pleaded guilty to three counts of dishonestly failing to disclose information about being overpaid £21,696 between January 2013 and November 2015. Adam Sharp, defending, said: "She accepts she embarked on this enterprise out of greed, albeit to support her daughter. She is in a stable relationship and actively seeking employment and is fit for work. The effects of sending her into custody would have a particularly devastating impact on her family."

Bowen was initially remanded into custody for a night while Judge Stephen Hopkins QC considered her sentence. However the following day he told her she had "escaped immediate custody by a cat's whisker". He suspended her sentence after deciding jailing her would have an "enormous" effect on her daughter. Bowen was also ordered to repay the money and to complete 120 hours of unpaid work in a year, plus pay £500 prosecution costs. The court heard Bowen had already repaid £2,000 over the past year.

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11 Apr 2017

Benefit cheat claimed she couldn't walk

A childminder who conned taxpayers out of more than £51,000 in disability benefits by claiming she could not walk is facing jail.

Candace Dellaway, 49, from New Addington, lied for nine years that numbness in her legs meant she was constantly in danger of falling over and hurting herself.

Despite claiming she needed help at home, Dellaway continued to work full-time in childcare between June 2006 and October 2015.

When confronted about her lies, she insisted that all she did was watch children and left the heavy lifting to other staff.

The court heard Dellaway made genuine benefit claims for a back condition in March 2003 and June 2004 up until 2006. But she failed to tell the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) that her condition had improved and made repeated ‘exaggerated’ false claims in May 2006 and April 2009.

In total she received £51,772.53 in disability payments by claiming she was ‘unable or virtually unable to walk’.

Prosecutor Augusta Akusu-Ossai said: ‘She stated that the effort or working was dangerous, it exacerbated her back condition and she loses her balance and falls as her legs go numb and give way'.

Dellaway also falsely claimed she had problems getting ‘in and out of bed and the bath’. But her work colleagues gave statements saying she was a ‘fully active member of staff’.

Miss Akusu-Ossai added: ‘Her full time job in child care, involving physically demanding tasks on a daily basis contradicted her condition as she claimed.’

When interviewed Dellaway said they were ‘all lying’ and her role was ‘not an active one’. She said her job wasn’t physical as she ‘just watches children’ and did not lift heavy equipment, as she would just ask other staff to do it.

Miss Akusu-Ossai told the court: ‘The Disability Living Allowance was given on the grounds that she was unable or virtually unable to walk and needed help from another person and this requirement was through the day and the night. It was paid via an automated credit transfer into her Lloyds bank account. It was paid on the basis of what she had disclosed, her medical circumstances, at the time of the original claim and notified the DWP of any change of circumstances or improvement in her medical condition. In the process of making her Disability Living Allowance claims Mrs Dellaway exaggerated her medical condition.’

Magistrate Douglas Hunter adjourned the case for reports leaving all options open including the case to go to the crown court for sentence.

He said: ‘These matters are extremely serious. The amount that has been claimed exceeds £50,000 and because of that a custodial sentence is appropriate. However, before that we are going to ask for reports on you all options open including a custodial sentence and committal to the crown court as the appropriate sentence will exceed the sentencing powers which magistrates can give.’

Dellaway pleaded guilty to dishonestly failing notify a change of circumstances affecting entitlement to social security benefit and two charges of dishonestly making a false statement to obtain a benefit.

She is currently paying back the £51,000 at a rate of £20 a week, though she did say the rate of payment ‘could go up’.

Dellaway left the court by sneaking out of a back door and was spotted walking swiftly away down the road yelling ‘fuck off’ at a group of reporters. She was released on unconditional bail to next appear at Croydon Magistrates Court on 26 April when she will either be sentenced or her case will be sent to the crown court.

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10 Apr 2017

Benefit fraudster claimed £21,000 for tenant dad

A businessman who fraudulently claimed more than £21,000 in benefits on behalf of his father was convicted of fraud. (h/t Dave)

Adrian Young, aged 57, from Fenny Drayton, made an application for council tax and housing benefit for his father but failed to disclose he owned the property in question.

Young was also living in the large detached property in May 2011 with his girlfriend which he had bought for £710,000 years earlier.

The businessman denied benefit fraud saying his parents lived in an annexe of the house. He also said dyslexia had contributed to him submitting information in error.

Dave points out Mr Young's web site. If his dyslexia was so bad that council benefit forms confused him, would you trust his financial advice?

Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council, who brought the prosecution, assessed Mr Young’s claim on the basis of the information declared in the application form which resulted in an overpayment of £21,099.86 in council tax and housing benefit. Had he made the relevant declarations, his father would not have been entitled to any benefits.

Young was sentenced to an eight month prison sentence, suspended for two years, after being found guilty at Leicester Crown Court. In addition, he was ordered to carry out 200 hours unpaid work in the community and to pay £12,000 in costs to Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council within the next three months.

Young has already repaid the £21,000 overpayment to the council.

In sentencing, the Judge accused Young of trying to “pull the wool over everyone’s eyes”, by “taking advantage of the system”, adding that during his evidence, he found Young “evasive” and “intent upon putting forward your circumstances as an excuse.”

Speaking after the case, Storme Coop, benefit operational manager at the Borough Council said: “This was a thorough investigation which proved that Mr Young lied to the council in order to falsely claim thousands of pounds in housing benefit and council tax benefit his family was not entitled to. Housing benefit and council tax benefit exists so that qualifying households can receive help when they need it. Young abused this scheme and as a result he now has a criminal record and a bill of over £12,000 to pay."

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This will not enhance Mr Young's career.