Fraudsters at centre of massive council housing scam prosecuted
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Local Government and also in Housing, Legal
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Seven fraudsters responsible for one of the largest housing fraud cases in the UK in recent years have been brought to justice.
Over three years, the group conned Southwark Council out of 23 homes.
Ibrahim Bundu, his mother, Marie Bundu, his ex-wife, Ada Kamara, his estranged wife, Fatmata Koroma, and Korama’s aunt, Haja Sesay, along with fellow defendants Aminata Lassayo and Rebecca Quartey, fraudulently obtained the properties for themselves and others.
Woolwich Crown Court heard that in 2003, Ibrahim Bundu, who was working for the council in the homeless department, came up with an audacious scheme to process bogus housing applications.
He used fake identities and false personal data, and gave those false applicants characteristics that would make them ‘high priority’ for housing, by, for example, pretending single women were pregnant, helping their applications go to the top of the waiting list.
He used fake documents to support the fictional applications, making them very hard to trace at the time, and then allocated homes to the fake characters, who in real life were his friends and family.
Over time, he extended his offer to others, who paid him for securing them a home. Through the course of the investigation, officers discovered payments made to his account, swiftly followed by corresponding housing applications going through a few days later.
The fraud came to light in 2011 as part of the council’s effort to tackle fraud. By subscribing to the Audit Commission’s national fraud initiative, which matches data from different sources to look for anything that looks suspicious, the council discovered that one of the tenants involved in the case had used fake documents when making the application.
Further investigations found that every document used to support their housing application was fake. Digging deeper, the council identified a pattern of fake documents that led back to the crooked Bundu.
By working with the UK Borders Agency and HMRC, further checks revealed that several of the fraudulent applications had resulted in council homes being allocated to people who were not legally allowed to be in the country.
Of the 23 properties Bundu allocated fraudulently, six were received by his co-defendants.
The council has recovered 15 since the fraud was uncovered, and following the court case will be able to ensure the final eight are reclaimed and given to those in genuine need. The local authority currently has around 20,000 people on its housing waiting list.
“Southwark has one of the longest waiting lists for council housing in the country, and that’s why we have to make sure everyone who has a council home is genuinely entitled to it," said cllr Ian Wingfield, deputy leader and cabinet member for housing management.
"As this case shows, public sector fraud is not a victimless crime – it can take homes away from people who need a roof over their heads. This is why the council has been relentless in its campaign to tackle fraud over the last few years, working with our partners at the UKBA, HMRC, the Audit Commission, and other credit checking agencies. As a result we are one of the most successful councils in the country at catching fraudsters and reclaiming properties for genuine tenants.”
The seven fraudsters initially pleaded not guilty but changed their pleas having heard the council’s prosecution case. They will be sentenced on 20 March.
Darren Shillington, head of the national fraud initiative at the Audit Commission, said: "When we hear about successful prosecutions and the recovery of properties for those in genuine need that have resulted from following up the potential cases of fraud or error that the initiative identifies it reinforces the tangible benefits of our work. We are delighted that Southwark Council's hard work on 'Operation Bronze' has resulted in prosecutions, and it sends a clear message to potential fraudsters that our data matching techniques will catch you out."
Since April 2012, Southwark Council has recovered and relet 480 properties that had been unlawfully sublet, with 14 prosecutions. Over the same period it has prosecuted 60 people for benefit fraud.