Three accountants who tried to steal £710,000 from a government redundancy fund for workers whose employer had gone bust have been jailed for a total of 15 and a half years.
Lennox McLeod, 46, of West Wickham, London, recruited accountants Francine Francis, 43, Welham Road, Streatham and Mohammed Nadeem, 41, from Borough Hill, Croydon, to work for him and help commit the fraud, an HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigation revealed.
Together they arranged for 105 false claims totalling £710,000 to be submitted to the Redundancy Payment Service (RPS) over a six-year period, for employees of insolvent companies.
The accountants were acting for several companies as they made claims for unpaid wages, redundancy and holiday pay. In some cases, the group used false National Insurance numbers and identities to make the fraudulent claims and pocketed the cash. More than £450,000 was paid out by the RPS before the fraud was detected.
Richard Wilkinson, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:
“McLeod was the driving force in this despicable fraud, stealing money from a redundancy fund that’s in place to help those in real need of financial help. These three abused their position of trust and should have known better. The money could have paid the starting salary of the equivalent of 25 new London nurses.
“HMRC worked closely with other law enforcement agencies to gather the strong evidence that helped convict McLeod and the others engaged in making these fictitious claims.
“Anyone with information about this type of fraud should report it to HMRC online or call our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”
Nathan Marsh, Senior Manager for the Redundancy Payment Service, said: “McLeod and his cronies made bogus claims against a system that was specifically put in place to help those who need urgent financial support when they lose their jobs.
“Their actions were particularly unscrupulous and we will continue to work with HMRC and other government agencies to bring fraudsters to justice.”
The gang members denied involvement in the conspiracy at Croydon Crown Court on 14 May 2018 but were found guilty of cheating the public revenue on 13 July 2018 after a nine-week trial.
In a separate case at Croydon Crown Court, McLeod, who was based at an office in Manor Park Road, West Wickham, also admitted a £111,332.82 VAT repayment fraud between June 2014 and June 2017, where he pocketed VAT refunds paid to The Luxe Agency Limited after ‘taking over’ the business when the company’s director died.
He updated its trading address and business bank account but did not forward the VAT refunds to The Luxe Agency or the estate of the deceased director.
The defendants were sentenced at Croydon Crown Court on 17 December 2018, following the conclusion of the second case.
In passing sentence, trial judge His Honour Judge Flahive described McLeod as ‘the architect’ of the fraud, and jailed him for a total of nine years. Francis was jailed for four years and Nadeem for two years and six months.
Confiscation proceedings to recover assets from the gang will now begin.
Pictured above, clockwise from left are McLeod, Francis and Nadeem.