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Burnley man in £91K winter fuel benefit fraud
A RINGLEADER of a £91,000 pensioners’ benefits scam in East Lancashire has been told to expect a hefty prison sentence.
Former Department of Work and Pensions official Vajid Ashraf, 33, was described as the ‘lynchpin’ of an alleged money-laundering web which saw pension credits, cold weather payments and winter fuel allowance siphoned off to various bank accounts.
The money should have been paid to senior citizens living in the south-west.
The winter fuel allowance was worth £250 for over 65s and £400 for over 80s at the time and cold weather payments are fixed at £25 per week.
Burnley Crown Court heard that initial estimates of the fraud carried out by Ashraf, who worked at the DWP’s sprawling offices at Simonstone, totalled £83,000.
But prosecutor Kevin Slack said Ashraf now accepted that the scam would have earned around just over £91,100.
Ashraf, of Cumberland Avenue, Burnley, admitted two offences of conspiracy to defraud.
Zaheer Uddin, 27, of Mollington Road, Blackburn, also admitted one charge of conspiracy to defraud.
Sanaa Khan, 24, of Mauldeth Road West, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, admitted to converting criminal property by making payments of £1,951 to a Nat West bank account.
Nabila Akhtar, 23, of Tempest Road, Leeds, also pleaded guilty to converting criminal property, relating to £8,781 deposited in a HSBC account.
And Sima Khan, 27, of Tenby Road, Moseley, Birmingham, admitted a similar offence, relating to £5,429 and a Lloyds TSB account.
Bailing Ashraf for sentence, Judge Beverley Lunt said he was ‘the lynchpin’ and the ‘hub’ of the conspiracy, which occurred between September 2010 and June 2011.
Ashraf was also placed on a curfew, which will be monitored by an electronic tag and must report to Burnley police station twice a week. Uddin must report to Blackburn’s Boulevard police station once a week as part of his bail conditons.
The judge added: “As far you are concerned Zahid Ashraf you must be under no misapprehension. Your sentence will be a very long one of imprisonment and you should get your affairs in order.”
Judge Lunt also warned Uddin and Khan they were also facing jail sentences.
Nine other defendants, including Shakeel Butt, 27, of Lambeth Street, Blackburn, and others from Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Stoke-on-Trent, will face trial next March after denying fraud conspiracy and converting criminal property offences.