Seven sentenced for their involvement in alleged £770k benefit fraud

0
139

As part of the government’s £900 million crackdown on fraud, seven people have been sentenced for their part in a major fraud operation worth an alleged £770,000.  

An investigation by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) uncovered an organised crime gang which made thousands of false claims for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) then used stolen and hijacked genuine identities to launder money through their own personal bank accounts.  

Donna John, 39, Michelle John, 33, Kofi Ofori-Atta, 52, Maria Theaker, 56, Jamie Wilkins, 36, and Serena Farmer-White, 32, all from Cardiff, and Christopher Gougherty, 37, from Cwmbran, appeared at Cardiff Crown Court on Friday (27 October) for their involvement in stealing £138,000 of the total amount.  

They received sentences as high as 71 weeks in custody, suspended for 18 months. Other members of the gang are still to be tried, with the alleged fraud rising to a total of £770,000.

The DWP will now take steps to recover the money stolen, building on the Department’s new target to save at least £1.3 billion on fraud and error in 2023-24.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mel Stride MP, said: 

“We will use all the powers at our disposal to catch fraudsters and deter others from abusing the system.  

“This case should act as a warning to anyone thinking they can get away with fraud. We will track down criminals stealing from the taxpayer and we will bring them to justice.”

DWP Minister responsible for tackling fraud, Tom Pursglove MP, said:   

“Benefit fraud is never a victimless crime. It diverts money away from those who really need it. 

“That is why we are ramping up our plans to root out fraudsters as part of a push to save £1.3bn in 2023-2024.”  

In addition to today’s court proceedings, five other fraudsters were sentenced for their roles earlier this year, while 14 others await court hearings.

Ryan Perry, 33, Andrew Siddell, 56, Connor Mainwaring, 30, Damon Cooper, 32, and Cobbie Rickard, 28, were sentenced following court appearances earlier this year after they stole more than £50,000. 

Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Reviewing Lawyer, Hywel Rees, said: 

“This was a complex fraud case, involving several defendants spread across multiple counties in England and Wales.

“The impact of fraud on victims can be devastating and result in significant losses to taxpayers. The CPS continues to work closely with the Department for Work and Pensions to successfully prosecute cases of fraud whenever our legal test is met.”

The sentences come as the latest figures show a 10% drop in the rate of fraud and error over the past year, with plans to drive those numbers down further.   

In 2022, the DWP launched a robust plan to further tackle fraud and error in the benefits system. The Fighting Fraud in the Welfare System plan, backed by £900 million over three years, bolsters the counter-fraud frontline significantly with measures including the deployment of trained specialists to review millions of Universal Credit claims.    

The Fighting Fraud in the Welfare System plan can be accessed on gov.ukhere


The sentencing details were: 

  • Kofi Ofori-Atta: 71 weeks’ custodial sentence, suspended for 18 months, a four-month electronic curfew, 15 rehabilitation and activity requirement days and a statutory victim surcharge.
  • Christopher Gougerty: 48 weeks’ custodial sentence, suspended for 14 months, 15 rehabilitation and activity requirement days, 80 hours of unpaid work and a statutory victim surcharge.
  • Donna John: 45 weeks’ custodial sentence, suspended for 12 months, 10 rehabilitation and activity requirement days and a statutory victim surcharge.
  • Maria Theaker: 45 weeks’ custodial sentence, suspended for 12 months, six rehabilitation and activity requirement days and a statutory victim surcharge.
  • Jamie Wilkins: Nine months’ custodial sentence, suspended for 12 months, 80 hours of unpaid work, six rehabilitation and activity requirement days and a statutory victim surcharge.
  • Serena Farmer: Nine months’ custodial sentence, suspended for 12 months, 80 hours of unpaid work, eight rehabilitation and activity requirement days and a statutory victim surcharge.
  • Michelle John: 12-month community order, 12 rehabilitation and activity requirement days and a statutory victim surcharge.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here