Benefit assessors from three councils accused of fraud in excess of £1m

Updated: 

Seven housing benefit assessors from three London boroughs have appeared in court accused of masterminding a fraud worth more than £1 million through a series of bogus claims.

The gang allegedly created dozens of false identities and authorised monthly housing benefit payments to be paid into the bank accounts of a series of associates over a 10-year period between 2006 and 2016. 

Rehel Asfaha, 35, an officer at Barking and Dagenham Council, and Alexander Williams, 38, both housing benefit assessors with the council, supplied identity documents to fake claimants to help them secure the cash, it is claimed.

Asfaha alone is accused of filing a series of bogus claims costing Barking and Dagenham £182,907.69, Westminster Magistrates' Court was told on Thursday.

Before her job with Barking and Dagenham, Asfaha was a housing benefit assessor at Lambeth Council where she allegedly pocketed £82,331.57 in benefits.

Four further officers at Lambeth Council - Jessica Bartley, 33, Menlik Cowan, 36, Natasha Francis, 37, and Cassandra Johnson, 36 - are accused of orchestrating a similar scam on their employer.

The alleged fraud against Lambeth Council alone totals £631,479.4. Bartley allegedly conned the council out of £71,600, and had £51,155.04 under her control when she was arrested.

Cowan is said to have pocketed £298,469.79, as well as supplying false identity documents to associates posing as members of the public in need of support.

Johnson is accused of putting through false payments worth £179,078.04 and controlling £57,514.08 of criminal cash. She is also accused of supplying fake passports to three people.

Natasha Francis is accused of supplying false identity documents to one person.  

Hugh Small, 62, a housing benefit assessor for the Royal Borough of Kingston is also accused of defrauding his employer by setting up payments to non-existent claimants, supplying false identity documents and controlling criminal cash.

Five of the gang's associates - Samuel Hammond, 39, Donna Francis, 56, Mgeini Khanye, 35, Kyeshia Strachan, 27, and Derek Williams, 57 - also appeared in the dock accused of helping to launder the criminal cash.

Prosecutor Carly Loftus said the alleged fraud involved "significant planning and abuse of a position of trust".

Magistrate Victoria Readman sent all 12 defendants to Southwark Crown Court for a pleas and case management hearing on September 19. They were all granted unconditional bail until their next court appearance.

Asfaha, of west Beckton, London, is charged with two counts of fraud by abuse of position, two counts of possession of controlled identity documents with intent and two counts of money laundering between May 22 2006 and July 18 last year.  

Alexander Williams, of Brockwell Park, Lambeth, south London, is charged with fraud by abuse of position, possession of controlled identity documents with intent and controlling criminal property between September 3 2012 and August 24 2016.  

Bartley, of Clapham, south London, is charged with fraud by abuse of position, controlling criminal property and possession of controlled identity documents with intent between August 31 and September 26 2016.  

Cowan, of Edmonton, north London, is charged with fraud by abuse of position, possession of controlled identity documents with intent and controlling criminal property between July 12 2010 and October 10 2016. 

Natasha Francis, of Southwark, south London, is charged with fraud by abuse of position and possession of controlled identity documents with intent between October 24 2011 and January 9 2012. 

Johnson, of Brixton, south London, is charged with fraud by abuse of position, controlling criminal property and possession of controlled identity documents with intent between June 4 2009 and October 10 2016.

Small, of Fulham, west London, is charged with fraud by abuse of position, possession of controlled identity documents with intent and controlling criminal property between May 26 and May 31 2014.

Hammond, of Dagenham, Essex, is charged with money laundering between May 15 2007 and July 18 2016.  

Donna Francis, of Lambeth, south London, is charged with one count of money laundering between June 4 2009 and May 9 2016.  

Khanye, of Canning Town, London, is charged with money laundering between January 8 2007 and July 15 2013.

Strachan, of Hackney, London, is charged with money laundering between February 2 2014 and October 12 2015.

Derek Williams, of Lambeth, south London, is charged with money laundering between May 25 2015 and October 10 2016.