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Seven benefits assessors pocketed more than £1m

Rahel Asfaha (leaving Southwark Crown Court on January 1) was convicted of eight offences of fraud by abuse of position, worth £181,872

Seven housing benefit assessors who stole more than £1million from three London councils are facing jail.  

Lambeth, Kingston, and Barking and Dagenham Councils were cheated out of £1,025,912 in the decade-long fraud which ran between 2006 and 2016. 

Menelik Cowan, 37, and six other council workers paid the cash into bank accounts opened with false passports.  

Cowan, his then girlfriend Natasha Francis, 38, his brother Hugh Small, 39, Cassandra Johnson, 38, Jessica Bartley, 35, Rahel Asfaha, 36, and Alexander Williams, 39, were working for the local authorities at the time.

One defendant processed claims amounting to more than £240,000. 

Jurors at Southwark Crown Court convicted the seven of various charges of fraud and money laundering after a trial lasting more than three months.

Gareth Munday, prosecuting, revealed how the assessors put through a vast number of false claims using fake identities. 

The defendants all worked in the local authorities of Lambeth, Kingston and Barking and Dagenham creating false housing benefit claims and sending the funds to accounts they controlled. 

Menelik Cowan (left) and Hugh Small (right) leaving the court

Menelik Cowan (left) and Hugh Small (right) leaving the court

Jessica Bartley leaving court

Derek Williams leaving the court

Jessica Bartley, left, and Derek Williams, right, leaving Southwark Crown Court. Bartley was convicted of one offence of fraud by abuse of position worth £71,600. Williams, 58, was convicted of money laundering worth £14,168.03

SEVEN WORKERS DEFRAUDED PUBLIC OUT OF MORE THAN £1MILLION

Menelik Cowan, who worked for Lambeth Council and lived in Enfield, was convicted of five charges of fraud by abuse of position after trial.

He admitted one charge of fraud by abuse of position and one of possession of false identity documents with intent. The value of his offending was £286,918.92.

Alexander Williams, from Brixton, was convicted of fraud by abuse of position worth £240,345, while working for Barking and Dagenham Council.

Rahel Asfaha, from Poplar, east London, was convicted of eight offences of fraud by abuse of position, worth £181,872. She worked for Lambeth Council and Barking and Dagenham Council. 

Hugh Small, from Fulham, who worked for Kingston Council, admitted money laundering but was convicted of a further offence of fraud by abuse of position after trial. The value of his offending is £112,983.

Natasha Francis, from Walworth, who worked for Lambeth Council, admitted a money laundering offence was convicted of being concerned in a money laundering arrangement worth £2,868.

Cassandra Johnson, from Brixton, was convicted of three offences of fraud by abuse of position worth £106,834 while working for Lambeth Council.

Jessica Bartley, from Stockewell, who worked for Lambeth Council, was convicted of one offence of fraud by abuse of position worth £71,600.

Donna Francis, 57, from Brixton, was convicted of money laundering worth £8,323.43 and Derrick Williams, 58, also from Brixton, was convicted of money laundering worth £14,168.03.   

The defendants would identify appropriate properties, collecting details for false claims and creating appointments for the fraudsters at the council.

They also approved false claims and used their systems to ensure council letters weren’t sent to the properties to reveal their fraud.

Money was sent into accounts controlled by money launderers Bashiru Tahiru and Elaine Agyemang, who left the country before they could be charged.  

The pair took their cut and diverted cash back to the council workers, and others including Alexander Williams’ uncle Derrick Williams and Donna Francis. 

The prosecutor said police discovered text messages between Cowan and Tahiru discussing the council’s claimant processing system.

Cowan, who worked for Lambeth Council, had texted Tahiru: ‘Make them work for sixteen hours per week, earning between 60 and 70 pounds per week. 

‘Make them text me when they get to the office and get them to go to reception.’

Normally claimants are given a ticket when they attend the housing benefits office and a number is called out when it is their turn.

In the texts, Cowan instructs Tahiru’s fake claimant to ignore the ticket and to, ‘tell them to stay seated until I text them.’

Cowan would then lead the fake claimant to a booth to carry out the assessment himself. 

The prosecutor said Agyemang and Tahiru were paying Cowan around £500 a week at one point.

When Cowan’s home was searched, police found a number of documents including a tenancy agreement relating to another scam.  

Ben Reid, from the CPS, said: ‘These defendants were trusted with public money – but abused the systems to satisfy their own greed. 

Donna Francis, 57, from Brixton, was convicted of money laundering worth £8,323.43

Donna Francis, 57, from Brixton, was convicted of money laundering worth £8,323.43

Menelik Cowan

Jessica Bartley

Menelik Cowan, left, and Jessica Bartley, right. Cowan, who worked for Lambeth Council, was convicted of five charges of fraud by abuse of position after trial. The value of his offending was £286,918.92

‘Their criminal network was large and complex. The CPS played an integral role in the successful prosecution of this case. 

‘We were engaged with the investigators from an early stage and we are thankful that the hard work by all involved has paid off and justice has now been done.’

The defendants all denied fraud but were convicted by a jury after a three month trial at Southwark Crown Court. 

They will be sentenced on 18 March 2019 at Southwark Crown Court.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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