Crime Reduction

20.03.19

Gang of council officers given 17-year total jail sentence after stealing more than £1m from three London authorities

A group of corrupt council workers who invented welfare claims to steal more than £1m from three London councils have been sentenced to prison for a total of 17 years.

The seven benefit assessors worked at Lambeth, Kingston, and Barking and Dagenham councils and created false housing benefit claims over six years.

The council employees all denied fraud but have been convicted by a jury following a three-month trial at Southwark Crown Court and sentenced to a total of 17 years in prison.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said Lambeth employee Menelik Cowan was the “driving force of the fraud” and was sentenced to six-and-a-half years imprisonment after diverting nearly £300,000 from his employers over the six years.

The other convicted employees received varying sentences between 18 months and three-and-a-half years in jail, and Cowan’s then-girlfriend and brother were also involved in the fraud.

The gang identified properties, collected details for false claims and created appointments for the fraudsters at the council.

They would then approve the false claims and use their systems to ensure that council letters which would 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 up until the fraud was exposed in 2016.

Ben Reid, a specialist prosecutor in the Specialist Fraud Division at 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 £1m to money launderers in the criminal underground.”

During the trial, the council benefit assessors claimed they had no idea that 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,” Reid added.

“They have now been convicted by the jury and these public funds are safely out of their hands.”

The CPS said it had worked closely with investigators from the Department for Work and Pensions’ Serious and Organised Crime Team to bring the prosecution, and said that efforts will now be made to recover the stolen money through proceeds of crime powers.

Image credit - Neil Munns/PA Archive/PA Images

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