13 Dec 2017

Immigrant benefit thief stole £244,000

A benefits fraudster conned 22 councils out of £244,000 in fraudulent housing benefit claims.

Tania Amisi, who lived in Chelsea Harbour, an upmarket district of London, tricked local authorities for six years using fake names into paying her housing and council benefits for properties she did not live at.

The mother of three, who came to the UK from Congo as an asylum seeker aged 12 and was granted indefinite leave to remain, would claim benefits on properties which already had tenants as well as on her own property.

She had also put in applications for a further £65,000 that was not paid to her. Amisi even featured in a BBC documentary Britain on the Fiddle this March which showed her lavish lifestyle and exposed other wealthy benefit claimants.

The 27-year-old spent some of the cash on her £25,000 handbag collection and luxury holidays to the Congo, Ivory Coast, America, Egypt, Morocco, and Turkey.

After pleading guilty to three counts of fraud in January 2015 at Westminster Magistrates' Court, she cut off her electronic tag and went on the run in Europe for two years.

She was charged with other counts and bank statements showed that when she was due for trial at Southwark Crown Court she had bought Eurostar tickets and booked herself into a hotel in Paris. Two days later she went to the Sheraton hotel in Brussels, which costs more than £100 a night. She also posed on Facebook bragging about her travels to the Congo and Istanbul.

When local authorities discovered the fraud the genuine tenants, who had nothing to do with it, were evicted. While on one trip Amisi spent €2,600 in a Prada outlet. She had Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, YSL, Givenchy and Dolce and Gabbana bags thrown at the bottom of a wardrobe.

Amisi also set up a false fashion company called Le Chateau Dior and used a fake name Tania Westwood to claim against Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) agents carried out surveillance on Amisi after she tried to cash phony cheques and discovered thousands of pounds being paid into her account by councils across London.

She was also known as Tania Abidi, Becca Amisi and Tania Alicia with seven different credit cards linked to these four aliases, plus two Congolese passports.

When the DWP raided her Chelsea Harbour home they found full length pictures of her in designer dresses on the wall and she had posing for photshoots which were posted on Instagram.

Amisi made thousands every month from each council, submitting 37 claims against 22 councils - 21 of which were in London. The fraudster claimed she earned the money to pay for her lifestyle by working in a minimum wage job at a local betting shop.

Amisi was pregnant with her fourth child when she was finally arrested in Paris in July after a European Arrest Warrant was issued. She was extradited to Britain and will give birth in prison.

She was convicted in her absence of a further 17 fraud offences between September 2008 and December 2014 plus one charge of skipping bail.

Southwark Crown Court heard the frauds were "an addiction" and she spent some of the money on a Cartier watch and Christian Dior clothes.

Amisi came to the UK from the Congo as an asylum seeker aged around 12 after her father was assassinated, the court heard.

Amit Karia prosecuting said: "She was arrested in France and taken to the airport before extradition to Britain. She has been in custody since July 25. The two addresses in Chelsea Harbour were raided and £25,000 worth of designer handbags were found at the properties. From this large sum of money stolen from this benefit fraud, she did live a lavish lifestyle and squandered that large quantity of money."

Judge Michael Grieve QC jailed her for a total of four years for all 21 offences.

He said: "After entering those three guilty pleas, you fled to the continent of Europe between February and May 2015 until you were arrested in Paris in July 2017. The methods used to commit these frauds involved careful planning and an ever increasing degree of complexity, involving false names and forged bank documents. This fraud continued for a six-year period against some 20 councils and in addition to the £244,000 you claimed, a total of £65,000 in unsuccessful claims were made.

"The nature of this offending was fraudulent from the outset and committed to fund your lavish and extremely comfortable lifestyle. This was not a case of a person in dire financial straits submitting to temptation and making fraudulent claims to get by. You committed these offences to fund your very affluent lifestyle on holidays, restaurants and designer handbags and clothes.

"You had a flat in Chelsea paid for by your fraudulent activities and your son had all the material benefits he could want. Once discovered you could not face up to the consequences and you fled to mainland Europe until you were brought back. There's very little evidence you have shown any remorse before you went to ground in Paris."

Amisi was also ordered to pay a statutory victim surcharge and the Department of Work and Pensions will seek a court order to reclaim the money stolen.

Source with pictures

12 Dec 2017

Benefit fraudster had £55,000 in the bank

A man who claimed benefit payments despite having more than £55,000 in savings has been ordered to pay back the money he was overpayed, but has avoided jail.

Paul Shinners had pleaded guilty to a charge of fraud by failing to declare his savings when claiming income-related support allowance.

Shinners, 62, from Long Itchington, was sentenced to six months in prison suspended for 12 months by a judge at Warwick Crown Court.

Recorder William Edis QC also ordered him to pay £10,776 under the Proceeds of Crime Act and £340 in costs.

Prosecutor Henry Skudra said in 2013 Shinners had started claiming employment support allowance, and a year later he began claiming income-related support allowance.

The basis of his claim was that he was not in work and had no employment or savings.

But in fact it was later found that at the time he made his claim, he had savings totalling £55,183 spread across four building society accounts and a bank account.

Over the period of the fraud from January 2014 until April last year, that figure gradually dropped to £36,500 – which Mr Skudra pointed out was still above the maximum figure at which he could claim such benefit.

And over that period Shinners had been paid £11,719 to which he was not entitled.

Explaining that some of the money has been recovered by being deducted from benefits Shinners was still entitled to, Mr Skudra asked the judge to make a confiscation order for £10,776.

And Jasvir Mann, defending, said Shinners, who has medical issues which mean he would be unsuitable to carry out unpaid work, agreed to the confiscation order.

Recorder Edis commented: “He seems, from the pre-sentence report, to think there’s nothing much wrong with what he’s done. He would know there was if there was a suspended sentence.”

And he told Shinners: “Over two years you continued to claim a particular benefit to which you were not entitled because you had capital over the prescribed limit. I don’t believe for a moment you didn’t know you had this money. This was a sustained piece of fraud. However, it was not fraudulent from the outset. This case clearly crosses the custody threshold, but I am not going to send you to prison. Because of your assets, you are able to make full restitution to the public purse.”

Full restitution is not enough. For this type of benefit fraud, hit them in the pocket. It was money that they cared about, so make them pay. Fine them, so that they have to pay double.


11 Dec 2017

April court hearing followed up

The Dellaway case - which we highlighted way back in April - grinds slowly on.

Now she is back in court over how much she should repay. But the hearing has been adjourned till January.

A childminder who conned taxpayers out of nearly £52,000 in disability benefits by claiming she could not walk has offered to pay back £100 a month.

Candace Dellaway, 49, 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 at the Croydon Play Plus childrens’ club 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.

She later admitted she had played netball with the children and a photo was taken of her balancing on a gymnastics beam at the club.

Judge Deborah Charles decided not to send her to jail in June this year as ‘an act of mercy’ because her daughter is dependent on her care.

Handing down a 12-month suspended sentence, the judge told Dellaway: ‘The money you claimed could have been spent on the NHS and other services and put to good use.’

Dellaway has now returned to Croydon Crown Court for a hearing to determine how the money should be paid back but the judge adjourned the case until the New Year.

Judge Charles said: ‘I may be being over-cautious but I have fallen foul of this before. You will need to speak to the legal aid agency, Lloyds bank and the defendant’s husband – he has the right to be heard. There has to be time for them to obtain representation if they think it is necessary.’

Dellaway’s husband is currently in custody and much of the money she has is tied up in their mortgage and property.

The childminder was paying the cash back at just £20 a month – so she would need 200 years to pay it back in full – but she has since offered to pay £100 a month instead.


9 Dec 2017

Romanian crooks deported - SNP concerned for their families

An organised crime network that fraudulently secured almost £1 million of public money has been broken up after an international police operation.

The benefit and tax fraud was taking place on a staggering scale in Govanhill, Glasgow, an immigration official said. A major operation involving Police Scotland, the National Crime Agency, the Home Office, HMRC, Border Force and the DWP found a series of bogus companies had been established in the neighbourhood to facilitate and provide cover for the fraudulent scheme.

The Home Office has confirmed that dozens of Romanians have been removed from the UK in recent weeks in connection with the exercise, called Operation Mighty.

Ian Tyldesley, head of immigration enforcement for Scotland, said: “HMRC identified fraudulent child tax credit and other benefit claims involving 58 people in Govanhill. Those benefits have now been stopped. The total sum was around £1 million and the scale of benefits abuse was quite staggering.”

Specialist officers from the National Child Abuse Investigation Unit are conducting a separate investigation in Govanhill, prompted by a Times report which suggested that vulnerable children were being sold for abuse in the district.

Mr Tyldesley confirmed that as a result of the fraud investigation 60 people were issued with a notice stating they were liable to be removed from the UK. Of those, 36 have already been forced to leave the country. He also revealed that Border Force, the Home Office’s enforcement unit, had denied 14 people entry to the UK at Glasgow airport and elsewhere in connection with the operation.

A Home Office spokesman said: “[Operation Mighty] has produced significant results to date, including 36 removals, a fall in crime and the prevention of 58 fraudulent tax credit claims totalling nearly £1 million.”

A Home Office insider said “solicitors and nine bogus companies were identified as being involved in benefit fraud and abuse of European Economic Area treaty rights”. He declined to give more information on the role played by solicitors but confirmed that none of those involved were British citizens.

The 36 who have been removed from the UK, almost all of whom are understood to be men, are from Romania, as are eight more people who are believed to be detained in Dungavel immigration removal centre. The remainder of the 60, which includes two Iranians and one Slovakian, are either believed to have left the UK voluntarily or are awaiting a final removal order.

The announcement that the 36 Romanians had effectively been deported provoked concern from councillors and community groups. At a meeting of the Govanhill Regeneration Group earlier this week it was suggested that women and children were experiencing poverty because of the expulsion of the men who had previously provided for them.

Mhairi Hunter, SNP councillor for Govanhill, said: “We have a duty of care to these families. We have identified a serious issue here, which we are going to have to take forward.”


6 Dec 2017

Man sentenced for right to buy fraud

David Cobbold, 55, from Great Horkesley, appeared at Ipswich Crown Court for sentencing. (h/t TenancyFraud)

He was found guilty by a unanimous jury verdict of fraud by false representation after he forged his deceased mother’s signature on a Right to Buy form between August 27 and September 18 2015, with the intention of obtaining a home in Rectory Road, Colchester, at a reduced price.

The jury took around two and a half hours to reach the decision.

Sentencing at Ipswich Crown Court, Cobbold was handed a two year jail sentence, suspended for two years by Judge Martyn Levett.

He was also ordered to pay costs of £2,400 and must carry out 300 hours of unpaid work in the community.


5 Dec 2017

Benefit thief mother avoids jail

A charity volunteer cheated over £30,000 in benefits whilst helping the homeless.

Mother of three Jodie Broad, 30, claimed she was a single parent - but was happily married and living with her husband Barry.

Over a three year period the children’s nursery worker pocketed extra on child tax credits, income support and housing benefit - despite having a joint income with Mr Broad, also 30, a Minshull Street Crown Court sentencing heard.

The claim had initially been legitimate as the couple had temporarily split up, but she carried on claiming she was single after she and her husband, a food company worker, got back together in 2012.

Broad, from Hyde in Greater Manchester, works in a children’s nursery and volunteers with homeless charity Shelter. She claimed £32,425 in benefits from July 2012 to November 2015 before she was found out. She later claimed she had financial problem and had ‘buried her head in the sand.’

But inquiries revealed she repeatedly made fresh claims for benefits when the couple moved house and repeatedly maintained she was single when given the opportunity to update officials.

At court Broad pleaded guilty to three charges of dishonestly and fraudulently claiming benefits and brought an overnight bag with her in preparation for going to jail.

But Judge John Potter told her: “I am telling you now the outcome of this sentence so you are not anxious throughout it and you can listen to what I have to say. You are not going to prison.

“You are a woman without any previous convictions whatsoever. The money you pocketed is money you stole from your community, it was money that could have been used in the community. But it is clear from the references that you do a lot with the community and not only do you do it you do it in an exemplary fashion. You will know the harm taking the money can have on the community, £30,000 could have been used to support people in the community. You had financial difficulties and I accept that affected your life. This is an unusual case because you are somebody who committed this fraud for a significant period of time while doing a lot of good work in the community. I must juggle those points with a lack of previous convictions, and I am satisfied that I do not have to impose a immediate sentence of imprisonment.”

No mitigation was given Broad’s behalf at the hearing. She wept as she was given 12 months jail, suspended for two years, and was ordered to complete 100 hours of unpaid work. She will face a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing later, in which she could be forced to sell assets to compensate the community.

Source with pictures

Benefit fraud lasted seventeen years

A woman who claimed almost £80,000 in benefits she was not entitled to, during a period spanning more than 17 years, has escaped an immediate prison sentence.

Janet Pritchard purported to be a single mum bringing up children - but for the whole period, she was living with her husband in a house in Tredegar.

Newport Crown Court was told that Pritchard, aged 54, obtained benefits fraudulently from February 1998 until October 2015.

Prosecuting counsel Steven Donoghue said that Pritchard had claimed falsely a total of £79,865.25.

"She claimed to be living as a single parent with children, but she was living with her husband all the time," he said. "These were different types of benefits, including council tax benefits and child tax credits, and she was caught, rather than stopping herself."

Mr Donoghue added that after her arrest, Pritchard claimed that she and her husband were "separate".

"But among various items found in the house were a joint bank account, a Sky account and gas and electricity accounts. There was also a loan agreement being paid from a joint account. She said that throughout this period she accepted that her husband had been parking his vehicle outside and sleeping in the house, for the sake of the children. She was preparing his meals and washing his clothes but she did not believe that amounted to him living there."

There had been suggestions that this began as a genuine claim, but Mr Donoghue said it appeared never to have been so, and "it all suggests they were living together."

He said that Pritchard has had remaining legitimate benefits reduced as a means of starting to repay the money.

Defence counsel Lucy Crowther told the court Pritchard has raised £7,000 by remortgaging the house, and this is being put towards ongoing repayments, and is an indication of her remorse.

Addressing the fraudulent claims, Miss Crowther said: "This is not money that has gone on living a particularly luxurious lifestyle."

Pritchard had initially pleaded not guilty to a number of fraud offences, including making a false statement to obtain benefit, but changed her plea to guilty last month.

The judge, Recorder Christopher Clee, told her: "You maintained you had done nothing wrong, which led to extensive inquiries that proved the case against you.

Sentencing Pritchard to 15 months in prison, suspended for two years, he warned her that further offending would result in her going to prison.

"I hope you continue to repay these monies as best you can," he said.

So they can afford a Sky account but she still gets benefits. Something wrong here.


4 Dec 2017

Benefit fraud surges by £200m in a year as record levels swallow up £2.1 billion of department's budget

Benefit fraud has reached record levels after it rose by £200 million in the space of a year, the DWP has admitted.

Fraud swallowed up almost £2.1 billion of the department’s total budget of £174 billion – the equivalent of £40 million per week.

It means that the DWP now loses almost twice as much money to fraud as the entire budget of the Foreign Office, which is £1.1 billion per year. MPs said David Gauke, the Work and Pensions Secretary, now had “questions to answer” over why the figures have gone up despite repeated assurances that they would be brought under control.

Figures released by the DWP show that in 2016/17 the total amount of money lost to “overpayments” – which counts both fraud and errors by staff – stood at £3.6 billion, up £300 million from the previous year.

Around £1.1 billion of that money was recovered, meaning net losses stood at £2.5 billion. Fraud accounted for 1.2% of the entire DWP budget, compared with 1.1% the previous year, largely because housing benefit fraud was at its highest ever level of 4.5%.

The new Universal Credit system was also targeted by fraudsters, with £50 million lost. Another £40 million was lost to errors by staff and claimants. The DWP claimed part of the reason fraud had gone up was because of better methods of gathering information on it, but a spokesman admitted that did not explain the overall increase in overpayments.

Frank Field, the  Labour MP and chairman of the work and pensions select committee, said: “David Gauke has got some questions to answer about this. After the Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has arguably the most important job in Government because of the size of the department’s budget. The Government is losing huge amounts of money at the same time as it is making a mess of the roll-out of Universal Credit.”

A DWP spokesman said: “We have brought in reforms to improve detection, prevention and recovery and our fraud investigators work tirelessly to bring criminals to justice. Last year we prosecuted around 5,000 fraudsters and issued around 6,000 administrative penalties and recovered a record £1.1  billion in overpaid benefits. Meanwhile, Universal Credit will reduce fraud and error by £1.5 billion when it is fully rolled out.”

In September, Judge Nicholas Dean QC criticised the DWP for failing to tackle benefits cheats and said that people should be forced to pay back money sooner.

And that's just what they admit to - they don't go looking!


Recidivist family's blatant benefit fraud lasted seven years

A shameless Liverpool family at the head of a £400,000 benefit and tax fraud ring lived a jet-setting lifestyle while claiming they were unable to work.

Bernard Knutsen, 68, owned Chaplin’s Bar and a garage in Toxteth but dodged his taxes over a seven year period – while also claiming Income Support, Council Tax Benefit and later Pension Credit over a decade.

His wife, Maureen Knutsen, helped run his businesses and their daughter, Kelly Knutsen, helped her parents launder the excess cash – while the women also cheated the benefits system.

The scam came crashing down in April last year, when Bernard and Kelly were arrested in Liverpool and Maureen was picked up at Manchester Airport after yet another holiday to Las Vegas.

Police searching the couple’s home in Fell Street, Kensington, found £39,500 in cash, Rolex watches worth £15,000 and a number of gold sovereigns stashed in Bernard and Maureen’s bedroom.

Bernard was jailed for four years at Liverpool Crown Court after admitting three tax fraud and six benefit fraud offences, while Maureen, 63, was jailed for three years after a jury convicted her of benefit fraud and tax fraud.

Mum-of-five Kelly, 39, sobbed with relief as Judge Rachel Smith spared her from jail, sentencing her to 21 months in prison, suspended for two years, after she was convicted of money laundering and benefit fraud.

HMRC investigations also found that 10 employees at the garage, in Hill Street, and three staff at Chaplin’s, in Lodge Lane, had also been working while fraudulently claiming benefits.

Kevin Slack, prosecuting, said: “The fruits of Bernard Knutsen’s tax evasion enabled him and Maureen Knutsen to enjoy lavish holidays. During the trial, it emerged that the Knutsens had travelled to Dubai in March 2008 and March 2009 to attend the Dubai World Cup (horse racing event). The court will recall the aggrieved tones in which Maureen wrote her subsequent letter of complaint to the travel agents, expressing her dismay at the VIP treatment they had expected not being available to them.”

The couple’s tax-dodging scheme also netted them:

* Trips to the UAE and USA in 2010 followed by a dream trip to the Far East taking in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and India in March 2011.

* In November 2011, they jetted off to South Africa, followed by more trips to the USA in 2013 and then a holiday to Argentina, The Falklands and Antarctica in 2014 – all totalling £21,000

* A brand new £24,000 kitchen at their Fell Street Home.

Mr Slack told the court: “None of this affluence prevented Bernard Knutsen dishonestly claiming means-tested social security benefits.”

In total, the Knutsens evaded tax from their businesses to the tune of £278,000, while Bernard and Maureen received £85,000 in various benefits they were not entitled to.

Mr Slack said Bernard began claiming Income Support between 2004, when he claimed he had not worked since 2002 and was now unable to work due to diabetes, gout and spinal injuries.

He claimed to have no savings, no bank account and failed to declare his income from the garage or Chaplin’s bar, which he bought in 1999.

Between 2009 and 2014, the garage alone brought in over £1.7m revenue, making a profit of £321,000.

Kelly Knutsen failed to declare paid work at Chaplin’s bar and rental income from a property she owned, and illegally received £54,000 in benefits. She also allowed her bank account to be used to hide £50,000 from her parents' criminal activities.

The court heard the couple were no strangers to fraud, with Maureen jailed in 2005 for her role in a £1.6m scam involving a crooked Norwich Union worker – while Bernard was convicted of helping her launder money.

Christopher Stables, representing Bernard, told the court his client was in poor health having undergone surgery for both a benign brain tumour and bowel cancer in recent years.

He said: “Mr Knutsen feel a degree of responsibility for the predicament of his co-defendants, his wife and daughter, particularly his wife, and wishes me to make it absolutely clear he does not blame her and he knows he should take responsibility himself.”

Damian Nolan, representing Maureen, said his client suffered from arthritis and other conditions, and said she still had “positive elements to her character.”

Louise Santamera, representing Kelly, said her client suffered from anxiety and depression and was now £20,000 in debt relating to council tax arrears and credit cards.

She said Kelly’s five children would be hit hard if their mother and both grandparents were jailed.

Judge Rachel Smith, passing sentence, said: “This was a sophisticated fraud in the sense that property was purchased and placed in alternative names, important licensing and operating regulations were put into other names and money was moved around including in relation to Kelly Knutsen conviction of laundering the proceeds of the crimes of her parents.”

Kelly Knutsen was handed a three month curfew of between 10pm and 7am.

Source with pictures

1 Dec 2017

Confiscation order to reclaim benefit fraud money

A 61 year old woman deemed unfit to work could lose her home after being overpaid more than £18,000 in benefits.

Maureen Hooghwinkel had been claiming income support since 2002 for a raft of health problems and currently takes more than a dozen medications every day.

But for around four and a half years, she had been receiving payments from her ex-husband which she failed to declare. On October 4 this year, she admitted failing to notify the authorities of a change of circumstances.

While she has since been making attempts to repay the money, at Norwich Crown Court Judge Stephen Holt, acting as district judge, ordered confiscation of the remaining £17,368.15.

Andrew Oliver, prosecuting, told the court Hooghwinkel had been of previous good character:

“The overall position is there was a claim for benefits for which she was not entitled for nearly 235 weeks, with a total overall payment of £18,078.55. During that period she had been receiving payments from her ex-husband that had not been declared. The defendant was interviewed and accepted she had received various letters but she did not generally read them. She said she had initially worked but health problems had taken their toll. She was asked about money she received from her ex husband and said she believed it was some sort of pension which had stopped six or seven months prior to her interview with the DWP. She said she spent the money on her children and believed she had received it for about 10 years.”

Mitigating on her behalf, Simon Gladwell told the court she wanted to do unpaid work but he feared her health problems might be “setting her up to fail”.

“She is very sorry for what she has done,” he said. “She is in fear that as a result of the confiscation order she will lose her bungalow in order to pay the £18,000. It is useful to her because of her physical problems.”

Judge Holt said there would be “no question of custody” for Hooghwinkel.

“You have a number of health issues and your strongest piece of mitigation is your remorse and early guilty plea, saving the court’s money at a trial which may well have been in excess of the sums being considered here,” he told her.

Hooghwinkel, from Caister, was given a 12 month community order with 75 hours of unpaid work. A confiscation order was made for £17,368.15, to be paid within three months.