10 Jan 2017

Benefit fraud was part of his toolkit

Self-made millionaire Kate Stewart cried in court as her husband was jailed over a £427,000 mortgage fraud.

Graham Stewart, 43, from Aintree, lied about his job and salary and provided forged documents to buy houses.

The convicted drug dealer later bought a BMW on finance before cancelling his direct debit and shipping it to Cyprus, where it “disappeared”.

After filing for bankruptcy, he hid assets including foreign villas and a £35,000 Rolex watch and sold his home to a company he was a beneficiary of. Liverpool Crown Court heard he had the audacity to then rent the house back to himself, while claiming more than £7,000 in housing benefits.

Mrs Stewart, 34, the former boss of Liverpool’s Heritage Markets, wrote to Judge Neil Flewitt, QC, saying her husband was now a changed man. But jailing him for five and a half years, Judge Flewitt said: “These offences represent an unbroken course of dishonest conduct.”

Property manager Stewart’s crimes came to light when he was investigated after filing for bankruptcy in 2010. He admitted three counts of obtaining services by deception and one of fraud between June 2004 and April 2007.

David Potter, prosecuting, said he secured advances of £172,500, £88,774 and £100,000 from mortgage lenders for homes in Gateacre, Maghull and Accrington.

He claimed to work for a company called All Trades Limited and earn up to £90,000 a year in wages and rental income. He made the same false claim to another lender for an £111,479 remortgage of the Lancashire property.

Stewart admitted theft after buying the BMW in 2008 with £58,000 of finance, but stealing it in July 2009. Judge Flewitt said: “You made relatively few payments before cancelling your direct debit mandate and arranging for the car to be shipped to Cyprus in the name of your brother, where it disappeared from view and out of reach of the finance company.”

The court heard Stewart hid documents from the Official Receiver revealing assets that could have cleared his debts. He admitted failing to hand over books, and four counts of concealing criminal property between November 2010 and December 2011.

This included two cash-generating villas in Cyprus and the Rolex watch - found in a safe at his home.

He tried to protect his Iris Park Walk, Maghull home by selling it to Cyprus-based NEFEA Limited, of which he was a beneficiary. Stewart admitted £7,257 of benefit fraud, which Judge Flewitt described as “a particularly cynical piece of dishonesty”. He said: “You rented it back and claimed housing benefit at the rate of £550 per month, even though you were in fact at the time enjoying a rent-free period.”

The crook admitted two breaches of a restraining order made during the investigation to curb his lavish lifestyle. He rented a £2,000 per month Aughton home - twice the amount he was allowed to spend - and paid £7,000 towards a BMW he later sold.

Stewart was jailed for seven years for conspiracy to supply heroin in 1999 and was still on licence at the time of the first offence.

Matthew Radstone, defending, said he had since married, had children and completely turned his life around, tackling his alcohol and drug problems. He said Stewart had suffered from serious mental health issues and had a depressive disorder.

Judge Flewitt said he would ignore a conviction in September 2012 for racially or religiously aggravated common assault “save to observe that, even during a period when you claim to have turned your life around, you still committed a further criminal offence”.

He said Mrs Stewart sent a letter about him becoming “an attentive and devoted husband and father” but could not overlook his criminal past. He said he agreed with the author of a pre-sentence report that: “The remorse he demonstrated appeared to be for the consequences of being discovered.”

Stewart was cleared of two charges of assaulting his wife last year, after the mum-of-three refused to support the prosecution. Mrs Stewart initially made a statement against her husband but later withdrew the allegations and refused to attend court.


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