13 Feb 2020

Judge attacks lax monitoring of fraudulent benefits scheme

A benefit fraud scam in which women pretended to be cleaners at schools cost the taxpayer almost £1m, a court heard.

Ringleaders Mohamed Goth, 66, and Feisal Aw-Isse Sadi, 43, have been jailed for eight and five years in their absence respectively after fleeing the country.

And 21 women from Manchester's Somalian community were also in the dock, following five crown court trials and a prosecution which a judge estimated may have cost another £1m in lawyers' and translators' fees, as well as court time.

Manchester Crown Court heard that the women were employed as 'cleaners' at two schools set up on Claremont Road, in Rusholme.

Goth and Sadi were directors of Iftiin Educational and Skills Centre Ltd, set up in a converted terraced house, and Hilaal Child Care, also known as Sherwood Education and Training Centre, established in a former pub.

Up to 20 'cleaners' were employed at both sites, in a staff size which Judge Anthony Cross QC said would have been more fitting for Manchester town hall, rather than businesses in a 'two up two down' properties.

He said: "This was a cleaning staff that would probably equate to that employed at the town hall here in Manchester, yet no one until the fraud was rumbled seemed to have noticed this remarkable fact."

Despite this, environmental health staff were called out separately after there was found to be a 'pest infestation' in a kitchen area.

The judge said the officers found 'few if any cleaning materials'.

Instead of cleaning, the women would sit in a room waiting for their children to finish the lessons, where English, maths and science were taught by 'well meaning' but inexperienced young people, often just out of university.

The women would sometimes 'tidy up a little litter' or 'occasionally mop up a spillage', the court heard.

The scam allowed Goth and Sadi to generate tax credit and benefit claims, so that the pair could obtain 'wholly unrealistic' payments to their companies to the tune of about £870,000.

By finding this 'work', this meant that the women could move from claiming job seeker's allowance to working tax credits, and would make them entitled to other benefits including housing and council tax benefit.

By moving onto different benefits the women did not have to attend meetings or appointments associated with job seeker's allowance, the judge said.

"The real purpose was so that the conspiracy could trigger the entitlement to working tax credit," the judge said.

Over many months, the women claimed more benefits than they were entitled to, with some receiving more than £20,000.

Judge Cross said: "The allegation then and now was that approximately £1m of public funds had been defrauded. It would not be surprising if the conduct of Goth, Sadi and these women and the other defendants have cost the public in excess of £2m.

"These defendants lived in an area in which there is considerable deprivation, where over time public services have been eroded. It is simplistic to apply simple arithmetic to this complex problem, but what good might have been done with the money wasted by these women, by those in their community who are in need?

"My concern is that this fraud was so blatant and organised that others of its type are in existence in Manchester."

The judge called for an urgent investigation to be conducted by the authorities to establish whether there are similar frauds taking place currently.

He also raised concerns at an apparent lack of background checks on the teachers who worked at the school.

"It is difficult to understand how any inspector concerned who had the interests of children as their paramount consideration could give approval to this place as an educational establishment," the judge said. "It also defies belief that it was considered safe to let young children into these premises."

The fraud was uncovered by the Department for Work and Pensions after a 'random computer check'.

Goth, formerly of Howcroft Street, Bolton, now thought to be in Somalia, and Sadi, formerly of Dunworth Street, Rusholme, whose whereabouts are not known, were convicted of conspiracy to defraud and both received jail terms which will start if and when they are arrested.

All 21 women appeared in court for sentence on Tuesday afternoon.

The majority of the defendants had to sit in the area of court usually reserved for juries as the dock was already full.

All of the women, who live within Manchester's Somalian community, were spared jail and ordered to carry out unpaid work.

"This fraud must have been well known to those who frequented this place," the judge said. "I have no doubt that each woman believed that she was on to a good thing and was happy to let it continue."

The judge warned the women: "If you don't do the work, you will go to jail."

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Anonymous said...

This came to light about 5 years ago, when the lowering of the benefit cap effected more families, by pretending to work their benefit was not capped. They also claimed to have child care costs which increased their Child Tax Credits.

The Judge is right, how do we have record number in work, record numbers of self employed? Gordon Brown has a lot to answer for with his tax credits.

And no, John, their future claims will not be flagged up with this conviction.

L fairfax said...

Seems very lenient - how much work do they have to do?