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27 Jun 2013

Disability benefits fraudster fights confiscation of assets

A self-proclaimed knight who pocketed £1.8m in disability benefits while performing beachball tricks in a luxury pool has been ordered to pay back £270,000. (h/t VNCounterFraud)

'Sir' Barry Brooks, 50, was jailed for eight years last August for claiming he was disabled and so weak he could not pick up a telephone.

In reality, the fraudster took the wheel of a string of luxury cars and ran his own motorcycle shop.

He was filmed serving meals in a pub, carrying plumbing equipment, and dive-bombing into a swimming pool during a holiday in the south of France in 2008.

Brooks, who insists on being called Sir, claimed up to £29,000 a month under the Access to Work Scheme.

Together with Derek Arnold, 56, and Stephen Isaac, 55, they pocketed £1.88m by submitting bogus claims for travel, support staff, and office equipment, for themselves and for disabled employees at the bogus firm they ran Access Audit Corporation (AAC).

Claims were even submitted for daily taxi fares in Brooks' name while he was holidaying in Koh Samui, Thailand, and Gran Canaria.

At a hearing into the profits of their scam, Brooks tried to claim the Rolls Royce and Jaguar bearing the personalised numberplate BAZ belonged to his father John and could not be seized as a proceed of crime.

He also tried to claim four houses registered in his name belonged to relatives.

But Brooks refused to attend Southwark Crown Court to back up his arguments, and Judge Martin Beddoe ordered Brooks to repay £268,910.40 or face a further three years in prison.

'Baz is an abbreviation for the name Barry and not for the father's name, John', he said.
The Jaguar and Rolls Royce were used by the defendant on foreign trips, and there was evidence to suggest he arranged the finance for the purchase, as well as the storage after his arrest. Mr Brooks has declined to appear today and put forward no evidence to support these claims.
The conman, who stood in the dock for sentencing with the aid of a walking frame, earned £1,810,161.67 from the scam, and put forward no evidence of what he could realistically pay back.

The judge agreed with prosecutors that the benefit of his crime could be judged through bank accounts, luxury cars, a property portfolio, as well as more than £53,000 in cash found at his home.

But he said it was clear Brooks had nowhere near that amount to repay.

Brooks suffered minor whiplash in a 1993 car crash, but had routinely overstated his injuries ever since.

When Brooks was arrested he owned six properties, including a penthouse on the Costa del Sol.

The court heard he had plans to buy properties in the Caribbean and Florida, and hoped to buy Duncraig Castle, in Scotland, and a £2m mansion in the English countryside.

At the house he shared with Arnold in Bromley, Kent, officers discovered a designer kitchen, collection of fine wines, and around £50,000 in cash.

They owned a pub in Dockenfield, Surrey, where Brooks was secretly taped serving food to undercover investigators.

The duo were also plotting to expand their scam in an attempt to build up 'some sort of empire'.

Prosecutor Andrew Marshall said:
Throughout all the time he was under surveillance Barry Brooks was walking freely all the time he was seen. He was never seen in a wheelchair and was never seen using crutches or a stick at all. What the evidence has revealed is a wholesale assault on a part of the benefit system designed to assist some of the more vulnerable members of our society.
He described AAC as being set up purely to 'control the claims' of employees, though there was 'no evidence' of any work being done:
Any good that came out of AAC was entirely collateral to its main purpose which was to be a vehicle for systematic fraud. Staggering amounts of money went to funding a wealthy, greedy lifestyle.
The Access to Work Scheme is a government programme designed to assist disabled people in obtaining and remaining in employment.

Arnold, who was also found guilty of claiming disability living allowance on the grounds he was 'dependent on his children for lifting and carrying', was also recorded on film driving, shopping, and carrying plumbing to and from different vehicles.

In sentencing Brooks, the judge said he was sure the fraudster did not need to use a wheelchair:
What I am satisfied of is that when it suited you, you exaggerated the fact of that accident and the claims to a disability requiring you to use a wheelchair were then as they remain now a sham. You purported to be champions of the disabled but throughout this period you have been their enemy, encouraging suspicion by what you did rather than succour. The Jaguar and Rolls Royce were used by the defendant on foreign trips, and there was evidence to suggest he arranged the finance for the purchase, as well as the storage after his arrest. You eroded public trust in a systematic way and have made it harder for genuine claimants to get help for what they need. The jury saw through the nonsense you have been pedalling for years about yourself and they saw through the dishonest web the two of you had so carefully and craftily weaved. This was a brazen, callous, sophisticated, and entirely parasitical fraud by the two of you over several years.
Brooks and Arnold, both from Bromley, Kent, were convicted of conspiracy to defraud between January 1, 2004, and March 3, 2010 after a trial last year.

Brooks was found guilty of a further charge of fraud between January 16, 2007, and March 17, 2010 after claiming £18,745 in disability living allowance.

Brooks was ordered to sell his two luxury cars and pay back £268,910.40 in the next three months or face a further three years behind bars.

Isaac, from Cardiff, admitted conspiracy to defraud before the trial.

Arnold was also convicted of claiming £2,874 in disability living allowance after saying he was dependent on his two children for lifting and carrying.

Arnold was jailed for eight years and Isaac two-and-a-half years.

A separate hearing into how much Arnold will pay back will be held on July 11, but the court has been told he only has £114.20 to his name.

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