A magistrate, her boyfriend and his friend who paid off court fines with cash from drug dealing have been jailed over a £61,500 fraud.
But Alia Arain, 38, of Albert Embankment, Lambeth, was sentenced to 10 months in prison – suspended for 18 months – for conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.
She and her boyfriend, Ashad Adams, 40, of Ardoch Road, Catford defrauded Arain’s landlady of the money by forging her signature on a cheque from a new chequebook sent to their address by mistake. They put the money in his bank account.
Arain and Adams planned to go on holiday to celebrate their criminality once they had laundered the money by buying expensive goods which would hold their value. But just four days later on 24 February, their plan unravelled when police were alerted to their suspicious activities when he tried to change pounds into Euros at a bureau de change at Heathrow.
She had pleaded guilty at Inner London Crown Court last November. She must carry out 150 hours’ unpaid work and pay a victim surcharge of £140.
Adams was sentenced to a total of three years’ and three months’ in jail for conspiracy to commit fraud – the charges included false representation, converting criminal property, possession of drugs and breaching a suspended sentence. He had pleaded guilty on 14 September 2018 at Inner Crown Court. He must also pay a victim surcharge of £170.
Adams’ friend Mohammed Shalim Ahmed, 40, of Cherry Tree Close, Rainham, Essex – daringly called the money crime hotline Action Fraud to claim he had been a victim of fraud, as the trio’s own cons unravelled. He was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, for money laundering and converting criminal property. He was found guilty at Inner Crown Court on 15 May 2019, following a trial. He must also carry out 120 hours’ unpaid work.
Acting Commander Alexis Boon, head of the Met Police Counter Terrorism Command, which took on this case unconnected to terrorism owing to the expertise of its National Terrorism Financial Investigation Unit, explained: “The group’s scheme quickly began falling apart when Adams and Ahmed tried to launder a large portion of the cash by changing it into Euros at a money exchange bureau in Heathrow Airport. The staff were rightly suspicious and called the police.”
When officers went to the bureau, police found Adams was wanted for having unpaid court fines. But Ahmed paid the fine using the cash obtained with Arain’s landlady’s cheque book.
Adams was only held initially for hiring a car while disqualified – and in it were heroin and drug-taking equipment. The chequebook was in the glovebox – and a second one was found at his home.
They also seized just under £3,000 cash Adams was carrying, under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Ahmed meanwhile spent the rest of the money from the fraud on a £10,450 Rolex watch.
Acting Commander Boon continued: “Much to Ahmed’s chagrin, the bank did not clear the cheque, leaving Ahmed more than £40,000 overdrawn. Ahmed, realising he would have to pay off the overdraft, had the audacity to call the money crime hotline Action Fraud and claim he had been a victim of fraud.”
Detectives then downloaded a series of audio files from Adams’ mobile phone, recordings of incriminating phone calls in which he, Arain and Ahmed discussed their crimes.
It revealed that before the fraud, Arain and Adams discussed whether she had sent him a “signature specimen” – she confirmed she had – and where the cheque book was. Arain confirmed she had moved it to his underwear drawer.
In another call – just minutes before police stopped Adams at the money exchange bureau – a stressed-sounding Adams tells Arain “find me some watches, find me some gold”, to spend the fraud money.
Arain confirms “I’ve already done that” and gives a list of shops to visit that morning, and items he should buy, including a second-hand watch because it holds its value “beautifully”.
They also discussed plans to get away and start a new life with the proceeds.
She was interviewed in April 2018 and tried to convince police Ahmed had planted evidence in her flat.
She also denied knowing where Adams was – but on 13 July, police found Adams in her flat. His phone had recordings of their chats and he was charged two days later.
Acting Commander Boon concluded: “This group wholeheartedly believed they would pull off their crime and end up with a third of the proceeds each, but they didn’t count on the diligence of money exchange bureau staff.
“The actions of staff at the money exchange bureau were superb – they have helped ensure that a considerable fraud was stopped and the culprits held to account.
“The victim has been reimbursed the money by her bank, meanwhile Ahmed continues to owe almost £50,000 to his bank.”