Seven benefit assessors have been sentenced to prison for a total of 17 years for their roles in housing benefit fraud which saw more than £1m stolen from three councils in London.
The assessors worked in the local authorities of Lambeth, Kingston and Barking and Dagenham creating false housing benefit claims over a period of six years and sending the funds to accounts they controlled.
Lambeth employee Menelik Cowan, one of the driving forces of the fraud, and six others, denied fraud but were convicted by a jury after a three-month trial at Southwark Crown Court. They were sentenced today (18 March).
Cowan was sentenced to six-and-a-half years’ imprisonment. He had diverted £293,147 from his employers over six years. Others received between three-and-a-half years’ imprisonment and 18 months.
The gang would identify properties, collect details for false claims and create appointments for the fraudsters at the council.
They also approved false claims and used their systems to ensure council letters, which might have revealed their fraud, were not sent to the properties.
Money was sent into accounts controlled by money launderers who left the country before they could be charged.
The Crown Prosecution Service worked closely with investigators from the Department for Work and Pensions Serious and Organised Investigation Team to bring the prosecution.
Ben Reid, of the CPS, said: “These council-employed assessors were trusted to look after badly needed public money meant to help people find somewhere to live.
“Instead they corrupted the systems and sent over one million pounds to money launderers in the criminal underground.
“During their trial they said they had no idea the claims were false and that they were simply processing papers given to them by their managers.
“However, the CPS prosecution showed the jury messages between them and their co-conspirators planning the whole thing.
They have now been convicted by the jury and these public funds are safely out of their hands.”
A timetable for proceeds of crime hearings will now be set out where the CPS will seek to recover any outstanding assets.
Summary of sentencing:
- Ben Reid is a Specialist Prosecutor in the Specialist Fraud Division’
- Menelik Cowan (D.o.B 27/01/1981) pleaded guilty to one offence of fraud by abuse of position and one offence of possession of false identity documents with intent. He was then convicted of five further offences of fraud by abuse of position after trial. The value of his offending is £293,147. He was imprisoned for six-and-a-half years
- Hugh Small (D.o.B 05/01/1979) pleaded guilty to one offence of entering into or being concerned in a money laundering arrangement. He was then convicted of one further offence of fraud by abuse of position after trial. The value of his offending is £112,983. He was imprisoned for three-and-a-half years
- Rahel Asfaha (D.o.B 20/05/1982) was convicted after trial of eight offences of fraud by abuse of position, worth £181,872. Imprisoned for two-and-a-half years
- Alex Williams (D.o.B 01/08/1979) was convicted after trial of one offence of fraud by abuse of position worth £240,345. Imprisoned for three-and-a-half years
- Cassandra Johnson (D.o.B 22/10/1980) was convicted after trial of three offences of fraud by abuse of position worth £106,834. Imprisoned for 18 months
- Jessica Bartley (D.o.B 25/08/1983) was convicted after trial of one offence of fraud by abuse of position worth £71,600. Imprisoned for 18 months, suspended for 18 months, and given 200 hours unpaid work
- Natasha Francis (D.o.B 21/03/1980) was convicted after trial of one offence of entering into or being concerned in a money laundering arrangement worth £2,868. 18-month community order, and 200 hours unpaid work
- Donna Francis (D.o.B 04/01/1961) was convicted after trial of one offence of entering into or being concerned in a money laundering arrangement worth £8,323.43. 12-month community order
- Derrick Williams (D.o.B 02/02/1960) was convicted after trial of two offences of entering into or being concerned in a money laundering arrangement worth £14,168.03. Imprisoned for 15 months, suspended for 18 months.
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