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8 Sep 2019

Jail for social care payments fraud

A fraudster has been sentenced for claiming over £37,000 from his deceased mother.

Ulisses Spencer de Souza Montiero, from Haringey, has been sentenced to 30 months in jail for social care fraud by continuing to receive direct payments for his mother’s care but failing to declare that she had passed away in September 2014.

He continued to collect the payments of his mother Mrs Spencer, whom he resided with, until February 2016 – totalling to an overpayment of £37,549.28.

Haringey’s Corporate Fraud team became aware of the situation when working with social workers to review the direct payments sent to Mrs Spencer.

Mr Montiero sought to mislead the council by saying his mother was alive and on holiday in Portugal with his sister, even though the mother had been deceased for around 17 months.

Councillor Joseph Ejiofor, leader of Haringey Council, said: “Social care payments are a vital support for some of our most vulnerable residents – those who commit fraud are taking vital funds away from people who need them most. Our officers are working tirelessly to ensure every penny in this borough is being spent properly.”

During an unannounced home visit to Mr Montiero, a neighbour advised the Corporate Fraud team that they believed Mrs Spencer had passed away.

The fraudster appeared at the Old Bailey on August 30, after being convicted at an earlier trial at Highbury Magistrates Court in July 2019.

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5 Sep 2019

Benefits cheat pretended to be her sister, who was in prison

A “brazen” benefits cheat with a history of dishonesty claimed more than £7,000 by posing as her sister who was actually in prison.

Claire Cross impersonated her sister Debbie Harris and made false claims for employment and support allowance, personal independence payment, and housingbenefit over a six-month period.

Speaking at Cardiff Crown Court prosecutor Thomas Stanway said: “She claimed benefits to which she was not entitled in her sister’s name.” The court heard she was wrongly paid £7,050.40 between October 2016 and April 2017.

Prosecutors said Ms Harris was claiming benefits when she was remanded in custody at HM Eastwood Park Prison in September 2016.

She was given a prison sentence the following month and Cross contacted the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to make a false claim in her sister’s name.

The court heard the defendant impersonated her sister and told the agency she had only been in custody for a week. The claim was reinstated based on that false information. Mr Stanway said the claims for all three benefits were fraudulent from the outset.

She said she did it to pay off her sister’s drug debt as people were knocking on her door and would not leave her alone. She said she could not afford to pay them.

The defendant said she bought clothes, including tracksuits and trainers, for her sister while she was in prison.

Prosecutors said she made full admissions and accepted she should not have done it. The court heard she had 58 previous offences on her record, mostly for dishonesty, including previous fraud offences.

Cross, 45, admitted three counts of fraud by false representation.

David Singh, defending, accepted she booked flights to Malaga but said they were for a relative’s funeral and not a holiday.

He suggested she had shown regret and remorse through her admissions and guilty pleas and handed the judge letters from the defendant and her sister.

Judge Nicola Jones said: “This was not just a one-off. There was repeated contact with the relevant agencies. You were brazen in your attitude.”

Cross was given an 18-month prison sentence, suspended for 22 months, and ordered to complete 15 sessions of a rehabilitation activity.

The judge said she would have made an order for compensation for the full amount if sufficient funds had been available.

She noted Cross was receiving benefits and would not realistically be able to make the payments within a reasonable time frame.

The defendant was ordered to pay £560 in compensation along with £340 towards prosecution costs and a £140 victim surcharge.

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4 Sep 2019

Hidden camera catches benefit fraudster swindling £17k

A woman secretly filmed by undercover investigators swindled £17,000 in disability benefits, a court heard.

Julie Priest, aged 53, lied about her mobility – but was caught out by undercover surveillance.

She denied benefit fraud but was convicted by a jury after a trial at Plymouth Crown Court.

A judge handed her a suspended prison sentence after hearing she needed mental health treatment – and provided care to her sick husband.

Judge Paul Darlow said: “Over some three years you claimed benefit to which you were not entitled in the sum of about £17,000. You undoubtedly do suffer from Chronic Pulmonary Obstructive Disease but that did not stop you doing several things which you reported that you could not do to the Department for Work and Pensions.”

He handed Priest a 30-week prison sentence suspended for two years, with three months of mental health treatment.

She must also do probation’s Rehabilitation Activity Requirement and pay £100 victim surcharge.

Priest, from Weston Mill, denied dishonestly failing to notify a change of circumstances affecting her disability benefits between July 2015 and July 2018. She was found guilty after a trial last month.

Emily Pitts, for the Crown Prosecution Service, told the sentencing hearing that the claim was not fraudulent from the outset.

She added: “She managed her condition to such an extent that her mobility had improved, as was shown on the undercover footage.”

The barrister said that the DWP has launched legal action under the Proceeds of Crime Act to recover the money overpaid to Priest.

Katie Churcher, for Priest, said the claim started off as genuine but her client’s health improved. She added that the defendant suffered from COPD but still acted as carer for her poorly husband. The court heard that she had been recommended for mental health treatment.

Miss Churcher said that Priest questioned whether the level of overpayment was as high as £17,000. The barrister added that she may have been entitled to some benefits at a lower rate – rather than nothing at all. Miss Churcher said the sum overpaid could be worked out at the Proceeds of Crime hearing.

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2 Sep 2019

Benefit authorities nodded through disability claims

A benefit fraudster was branded "wicked and devious" after she lied about being housebound and disabled to claim £62,000 from the taxpayer. (h/t Dave)

Andrea Blackburn, 40, made increasingly extreme claims about debilitating ailments as she took five types of benefits over a five-year period - while holding down a series of jobs.

A judge said she was "staggered" Blackburn was allowed to make the claims without proper investigation.

Blackburn claimed disability living allowance legitimately from 2008, but her swindle started when she had her claim pushed into higher bands in 2012 to 2013.

Teesside Crown Court heard how she claimed she:

  • Was agoraphobic, suffered with nerves, used crutches, could not stand for long periods, struggled to hold things and her hands shook uncontrollably
  • Needed help changing clothes and moving around the house, relied on others, did not go out and needed someone to speak for her
  • Could not answer the door, needed help eating, drinking and getting to the toilet, spent most days in bed and could not communicate
  • Fell several times a day, could barely walk, could not feel her hands, had to drink through a straw and could not cook meals, hold pans or cutlery or turn on a CD player
  • Someone had to reposition her two to three times at night and she could only be left alone for 30 to 60 minutes

In fact, she was working at least 36 hours a week as a customer assistant for Tesco and in Marks & Spencer coffee shop at the time.

Prosecutor Nigel Soppitt said she stopped working for two years then went on to three jobs for Greggs, Tesco and Sainsbury's from 2015.

Duties in her various jobs included preparing hot food, cleaning and clearing tables, operating a dishwasher and replacing stock on a wines and spirits aisle.

She claimed other benefits, saying she could not shower, was too weak to stand and had incontinence problems.

She threw up a "smokescreen" that she was confused and could not understand or answer questions when interviewed, said Mr Soppitt. "It seems they've simply accepted it at face value."

Investigators saw her driving her own car, after claiming she could not drive, as her deceit came to light in 2017.

In total, she wrongly claimed £62,640 in disability living allowance, housing benefit, incapacity benefit, employment and support allowance and personal independence payments between 2011 and 2016.

Blackburn, from Thornaby , admitted six charges of benefit fraud.

Damian Sabino, defending, said Blackburn gave a "worst-case scenario" and understood she did wrong but "buried her head in the sand".

He said the offending was unsophisticated: "This was never going to work. It was always going to be a matter of time."

This is an excuse?

He said the mum-of-eight did have genuine ailments including carpal tunnel syndrome, for which she had surgery in 2012 and 2015.

"They don't account for the versions persistently presented in claim forms," he added.

"She accepts responsibility for her offending. There was no lavish lifestyle, no holidays, no flash cars, no evidence of high living. She was living in a council rented property, paid bedroom tax and had a 10-year-old car. It's clear she doesn't manage money well. Over the years she has been left in debt by former lovers. She was perhaps an easy target."

He said she had the investigation hung over her for two-and-a-half years, and a consultant psychiatrist found she had anxiety and depression.

He said she was vulnerable, "did not have a good start in life", was seeing a psychotherapist and an early intervention team and found it difficult to explore emotional trauma.

He added she had repaid just over £1,200 of the money and had a new job starting on Monday.

Mr Sabino argued jailing her would impact on her children, cost her her home and halt a three-year plan designed to "get people out of the pit".

"I think her relationship with reality is a journey," he told the court. "These proceedings have brought her closer to reality than she has been before."

The judge described the crimes as "grossly fraudulent" and "particularly wicked and devious" during the hearing.

She said: "This is a lady who has presented to the authorities that she was effectively housebound, immobile and severely disabled, and yet she's holding down three jobs."

Sentencing, she told Blackburn: "You duped the Department for Work and Pensions and Stockton Borough Council into paying you a total of £62,640. Falsely claiming you were suffering from a host of medical ailments of increasing severity. You are a devious wicked woman."

He accepted she had difficulties in childhood and adulthood, and some real medical complaints and problems.

"But they are not to such a degree of severity that they entitle you to receive these monies," the judge continued.

"This is in my view a very serious offence. It is staggering that you were able to pull this off.

"It is unbelievable that the authorities did not properly investigate your medical claims. I'm told that the system that operated at the time no longer exists.

"You are fully to blame. You are a thoroughly dishonest woman. There are people in this country that suffer from genuine disabilities, genuine illnesses, and who need the support.

"You have come within a whisker of going to prison today."

Given her efforts to repay, the judge gave her a 10-month jail term suspended for 18 months with 150 hours' unpaid work, 20 days' rehabilitation activity and £600 costs.

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30 Aug 2019

Repeat benefit fraud offender jailed

A benefit cheat who used 15 different aliases falsely claimed more than £42,000 in benefits and admitted he had done it out of "greed", a court heard.

Darren Culpin, 53, from Gorleston, was claiming out of work benefits for six years, while he was in fact working for most of that period, Norwich Crown Court heard.

John Morgans, prosecuting, said that he failed to tell the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) that he had obtained work which resulted in a overpayment of £42,515 in housing and unemployment benefits.

He said some of the housing benefit was paid when he lived in the Somerset area, and the rest was paid by Great Yarmouth Borough Council when he moved to the area in 2015.

He said when interviewed about the matter, Culpin admitted he had buried his head in the sand and said he had done it out of "stupidity and greed".

Culpin admitted failing to notify the DWP of a change in circumstances between 2012 and April 2018 and was jailed for eight months.

Sentencing him, Judge Anthony Bate said he was a man who had used 15 different aliases with 17 convictions for 69 offences, which included a previous conviction in 2008 for benefit fraud.

This is not burying your head in the sand.

He said the fact he had a previous conviction for a similar matter made it more serious.

Danielle O'Donovan, for Culpin, said that the claim had started out as legitimate.

She said in the past he had suffered from a number of addictions including to drugs and alcohol, which he had managed to overcome on his own, but had then became addicted to gambling.

"He became a compulsive gambler," she said.

He said that he had now been getting help and was also now out of work, having lost his job after he was arrested.

She said he was hoping to get work again in the future so he could pay back some of the cash.

She said up until he lost his job he had been paying back £50 a month. "He knows it is going to take a long period of time."

She said he had at one point sent a letter to the authorities to say he was working, in 2016, but it was never followed up. "They did not follow it up but neither did he."

She said he wanted to work and said: "He will then be able to repay society."

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29 Aug 2019

Benefit fraudster already had suspended sentence

A serial benefits cheat who fraudulently claimed thousands of pounds could be sent to jail - but a judge is worried for the future of her children.

Parveen Akhtar was due to be sentenced on August 27 after admitting two charges of making a false statement in order to obtain benefits from the Department of Work and Pensions.

However, speaking at Stafford Crown Court, Judge Jonathan Salmon raised issues about the care of her five children under the age of 16.

Another daughter, 21, has offered to care for them, but the judge was concerned as she has a full-time job and her own child.

Addressing Akhtar, he said:
Make no bones about it, as I have told you before and repeated, the seriousness of these offences crosses the custody threshold and it is a breach of a suspended sentence. 
You committed these further offences during a period of that suspended sentence. 
In order to make a decision (on the sentence), I need to know what will happen to the children if an immediate custodial sentence is imposed, including the caring ability of your 21-year-old daughter.
The judge asked social services to gather information on how the children would be cared for if Akhtar was jailed.

She answers to unconditional bail until her next court appearance on October 11, when she is likely to be sentenced.

Akhtar's first offence was committed on March 10, 2016, when the 43-year-old claimed £3,730.80 in Carers' Allowance, saying she was caring for her nephew full time.

But she failed to mention she had a paid job as a carer at Carden Bank care home, in Belvedere Road, Burton.

The second was on November 11, 2017, when Akhtar applied for Employment and Support Allowance without declaring she had an interest in four properties.

No money was paid out for the second offence as she was still under investigation for the first.

When making the fraudulent claims, Akhtar was subject to a suspended sentence for claiming incapacity benefits and failing to tell the Department of Work and Pensions when she returned to work. She was sentenced for that offence on February 24, 2016.

Judge Salmon asked for a Proceeds of Crime application to be completed before sentencing to recoup the money Akhtar had fraudulently claimed.

The court heard she had an interest in three properties with her husband at the time of the offences, as well as another she is now living in.

Akhtar is now the sole owner of one of the homes she previously owned with her husband.

Her 21-year-old daughter lives there and the house in mortgage arrears, but there is equity in the property.

Another has been sold and the third now belongs solely to her husband. Akhtar is not currently claiming any benefits.

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27 Aug 2019

Benefits fraudster falsely claimed £10k while working as crime adviser based at police HQ

A fraudster has been spared jail - despite falsely claiming £10,000 worth of disability benefits while working at Staffordshire Police HQ! (h/t Dave)

Victoria Antill claimed allowances "designed for the most vulnerable" after telling authorities she suffered from a catalogue of illnesses, including strokes, PTSD, Bell's palsy, anxiety and depression, Stafford Crown Court heard.

The 36-year-old said she could not walk without assistance, could not cook due to severe physical problems, was unable to wash or bathe without help, and could not go to the toilet by herself.

But this did not stop her working 35 hours a week for the chamber of commerce as a full-time civilian business crime helpline advisor while based at Staffordshire Police HQ in Weston Road, Stafford.

CCTV showed Antill entering and leaving the office for Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce and Industry without difficulty and carrying three bags.

She had "no difficulty" with mobility, was able to climb two flights of stairs, and even entered running events.

The court was told she had sent letters to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) posing as her GP in support of her claim for a Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

Antill pleaded guilty to three counts of dishonestly failing to notify authorities after starting work in August 2017 while claiming Disability Living Allowance, Employment Support Allowance and Housing Benefits.

She also admitted a further charge of dishonestly making a false statement to obtain a PIP.

She was handed a 12-month sentence suspended for two years, told to complete 30 days of a rehabilitation programme, and ordered to continue to pay back £50 a month for three years.

At her sentencing hearing, Recorder Martin Wasik told Antill: "This is a serious matter in a number of respects - as pointed out by the prosecution, there are blatant aspects here of inconsistency in your working life and the statements that you were making to the benefit authorities.

"I am very concerned about a number of aspects - particularly the suggestion that letters reporting to have come from the GP may have been forged. There is significant dishonesty here."

Sparing Antill time in prison immediately, the judge continued: "I am going to suspend your sentence in this case so that repayments can continue. Prison would have serious adverse effects on you, very serious adverse effects on your family, and no further money can be repaid."

Opening the case against Antill, prosecutor Omar Majid said: "There is no dispute that the defendant had the ailments... but the effect on her was demonstrably and grossly overstated. She had initially said that she could only manage (to walk) half a metre and could not walk without someone physically supporting her."

Mr Majid said somebody from the DWP had visited Antill in December 2017 after she made an application for a PIP two months earlier.

He said: "She explained to the individual who visited that she had a carer who attended six hours a day, seven days a week. At the conclusion of that appointment, Ms Antill went to work. The Crown say that that was brazen dishonesty.

"It became clear that the defendant had grossly exaggerated her care needs."

He continued: "She had not told the adviser that she had started full-time work at the North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Had she told the truth, she would not have been entitled to the PIP at all.

"It was found that, somewhat ironically, she was working as a business crime helpline adviser.

"There had been observations that she had been walking up two flights of stairs without needing any assistance. She never showed or demonstrated any difficulty with her mobility."

Mr Majid said Antill had also called the DWP to say there had been no change of circumstances two days after she started work.

Antill's defence barrister, Saleema Mahmood, said she had already returned around £2,000 to the DWP and was paying £50 back a week.

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21 Aug 2019

Former dockyard worker admits benefit fraud

A former dockyard worker has admitted benefit fraud spanning three years.

Maxine Woodcock, from Portsea, received an over-payment of £2,285 in Universal Credit.

Portsmouth Magistrates' Court heard she did not tell authorities she had a civil service occupational pension from her time working in Portsmouth dockyard.

Claire Jackson, for Woodcock, said her client had asked for financial advice as she is in debt and added: 'It wasn't like she was living the life of Riley.'

Woodcock is still claiming Universal Credit but the amount she received has been revised now that she has declared her pension.

The defendant is already repaying the money.

Magistrates imposed a 12-month conditional discharge with £40 prosecution costs and a £20 victim surcharge to pay.

Woodcock admitted dishonestly making a false statement to obtain a benefit between December 30 in 2016 and January this year.

Ms Jackson told magistrates people wrongly claiming anything under £3,000 are usually dealt with outside court.

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19 Aug 2019

Landlord cons council into giving him a home for 10 years

A man cheated Slough Borough Council out of nearly £50,000 after he claimed he needed a house despite actually being a landlord.

Gavin Lescott, 41, was in the process of buying a property with his brother when he applied to be placed on the council's housing register in 2006.

He went on to buy a home in Manor Park, Slough, which he let out to tenants. In the meantime, he accepted a council house to live in in Britwell.

He also failed to declare he owned a property when he applied for benefits in 2017.

Reading Crown Court ordered him to pay £48,000 by October 25, or face 18 months in prison.

This was deemed to be the total criminal benefit from illegally obtaining the tenancy and residing there for more than 10 years.

He has also been ordered to pay full council prosecution costs of £6,816 at the Proceeds of Crime Act hearing on Friday, July 26.

It comes after he admitted three offences under the Fraud Act 2006 for making false representations and failing to disclose information he was legally obliged to disclose, intending to make a gain for himself.

He was given a 12 month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, when he was sentenced for the offences in May at Reading Crown Court.

He was also ordered to complete 100 hours of unpaid work and 10 days of rehabilitation which was aimed at helping him to understand the consequences of his actions and choices.

Lescott agreed to move out of the house in Woodford Way and voluntarily returned the keys to the council at the end of June 2019, which means the council did not have to formally evict him and incur extra civil court costs.

The house is now in the process of being rented out to another family on the council housing register.

Slough Borough Councillor Mohammed Nazir, cabinet member for housing and community safety, said:
We will not tolerate those individuals who seek to defraud the local taxpayer. 
Social and council housing is there to provide much needed homes for our residents, not to generate illicit profits for dishonest tenants. 
The council will continue to take tough action against those unscrupulous individuals who seek to deny vulnerable families a roof over their heads. We will always push for the harshest punishments where we find people defrauding not just the council but the children, families and hard working residents on our housing register.
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16 Aug 2019

"Psychic medium" was benefits cheat

A Kilmarnock-based psychic who calls himself Scotland’s Straight Talking Medium pled guilty to fraud.

George Wyllie, who travels the world with his private readings and live demonstrations as a medium, admitted fraudulently claiming £8500 worth of disability benefit to which he was not entitled.

Wyllie admitted the offence at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court last week.

The court heard how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) received an anonymous tip-off that the 37-year-old was working full-time as a spiritual medium, performing on stage for hours and mobile when attending appointments.

An investigation carried out by the DWP revealed Wyllie had been travelling for his work and had conducted vlogs on the streets of New York - all while claiming personal independence payments (PIP).

The fiscal depute told the court: “There was a video uploaded on the accused’s website entitled in May 2017. It shows the accused able to stand and move for prolonged periods.

“It shows him able to bend forward, reach below his knees and withhold that position and straighten up again without any problems.”

She added: “Surveillance shows the accused undertaking activities at his home address in contradiction to his claim for PIP. He was viewed carrying a TV, carrying out gardening activities, using a water hose, moving wheelie bins and able to walk more than 40 yards.

“Footage at Glasgow Airport shows the accused en route to New York travelling alone and at one point holding a bag in excess of 200 yards.

“His video blog shows the accused broadcasting live and conducting a blog while walking around the streets of New York.”

Wyllie’s Facebook page George Wyllie Medium & Psychic shows a number of videos and live vlogs updating fans on his upcoming events and activities.

His website, which describes him as “The Real Deal bringing proof of life after life”, documented his trip to New York in July 2018, including a hand-held video of him walking through downtown Manhattan on his way to the theatre.

He pled guilty to claiming £8500 of PIP to which he was not entitled between May 2017 and November 2018 at a former address in Kilwinning.

His agent told Sheriff Alastair Watson that Wyllie suffered a range of mental health conditions including a personality disorder. She said: “This was a man who thought he was not doing anything wrong.”

However, Sheriff Watson replied: “If you can walk about the streets of New York, taking international flights, you do not even remotely meet the requirements for PIP. He did not need much advice to find that out.”

The lawyer replied: “His personality disorder clearly had an impact on him.

“He has developed a split personality as a way of coping with life. He has shown remorse and recognises the damage his actions have caused to society by impact on the public purse. With the hopes he has for his business he hopes he can repay that sum.”

Sheriff Watson told Wyllie: “You are a fraud. You have obtained PIP when you clearly were not entitled to it and it must have been absolutely obvious to you that you were not entitled.

“I feel sorry for all the genuine claimants who are made to go through rigorous and sometimes embarrassing examinations. They all suffer because of people like you.

“It is dishonest people like you that cause the need for these rigorous examinations. You are so close to custody.”

Wyllie was sentenced to 12 months of supervision and placed under a curfew order, forcing him to wear an electronic tag and remain at home between 7pm and 7am each night for three months.

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