A HUSBAND and wife from Stanford-le-Hope have been jailed after admitting committing a £42,000 benefit fraud against Thurrock Council and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
At Basildon Crown Court, Hazel Ogunsanya, 29, and her 28-year-old husband Olasupo Ahmed (Mark) Ogunsanya of Colman Close had admitted 12 offences committed over a four-year period.
The husband had claimed Income Support stating he was a single parent and that the mother of his child was living in South Africa. Once his Income Support had been awarded, he was entitled to claim Housing and Council Tax Benefit which he did, stating he was living in a rented property in Grays.
He failed to declare his marriage to the mother of his child, and that they were living together. He then moved to an address in Blackshots Lane, Grays, falsely stating that he had a rental liability to “Matanki” — his wife’s maiden name.
The couple then moved to Colman Close that “Matanki” had bought for £214,000 and forged documents were used to claim benefits.
The wife then claimed benefit for herself, using her maiden name in respect of the property in Blackshots Lane, stating she had a rental liability to a woman who lived in Tilbury. Forged documents were again used to support her claim.
A Thurrock Council officer became suspicious during a visit to the Colman Close address and an investigation was launched by the council and the DWP.
It discovered that Hazel Ogunsanya was the true owner of the Colman Close address and that the alleged landlord for the Blackshots Lane address was dead.
Undeclared bank accounts were identified and an examination of these identified a lavish lifestyle with numerous payments being made for airline tickets, designer clothes and fast cars.
Both addresses were raided simultaneously by the investigators and officers from Essex Police. The defendants were found to be living together in Colman Close and Olasupo Ogansanya’s father and brother were found to be living lawfully at the Blackshots Lane address.
The Colman Close address was searched and over £23,000 in cash was seized. This will form part of a confiscation order that will be made by the council.
Other evidence established that Hazel Ogunsanya had travelled to Nigeria three times during her claim period, and to Qatar, Egypt, China and Jamaica.
Mark Ogunsany had made even more trips – to America, Nigeria, China, Tangiers, Amsterdam and Jamaica.
The trips to China are believed to have been made to buy counterfeit goods which were then sold in the UK.
Neither of them was able to show any legitimate source for their income.
Mark Ogunsanya had failed to appear for his first court appearance and the court was informed he was serving a period of 12 months imprisonment in Oman for fraudulent use of a credit card. He was arrested after his return to the UK.
The court heard he had previous convictions in the UK for obtaining property by deception, robbery, aggravated vehicle taking, burglary, theft, possession of an offensive weapon and criminal damage.
The court was also told the couple have a six-year-old daughter and that Hazel Ogunsanya was also responsible for caring for her sister who has mental health problems.
On Tuesday (1 May), sentencing the husband to 21 months in prison and his wife to 15 months, His honour Judge Graham said he credited both of them for pleading guilty, but it was clear they had been involved from the outset in a very sophisticated operation to defraud the state.
He acknowledged that sending Hazel to prison would have a drastic effect on her daughter and her sister, but that she should have considered this before embarking on a “deliberate and sophisticated fraud”.