Deal or No Deal winner Caroline Banana sentenced for fraud
Monday 29 April 2013
A mother who won £95,000 on the television show Deal or No Deal has been ordered to do 215 hours unpaid work.
Caroline Banana, 40, of Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, previously admitted six counts of failing to disclose financial changes in her circumstances with the intention of profiting from the situation.
Sentencing her today, District Judge David Taylor said: "Any offence of benefit fraud is never victimless.
"It harms every member of society who works and pays tax with the misfortune of having to claim benefit."
He told her "you have brought upon yourself" the huge amount of media publicity the case had seen both at home and abroad, including as far afield as the United States and Australia.
He said "any honest person" would have reported the winnings within a short time of receiving them and said he was satisfied her behaviour did "amount to a deliberate cover up".
He pointed out Banana had only admitted her guilty on the eve of her trial last week, giving her "minimum credit" for that guilty plea.
Mr Taylor, sitting at North Staffordshire Magistrates' Court, ordered her to carry out a 12 month unpaid work order, with supervision by the probation service.
She was also made subject to two compensation orders; to repay £2,517.35 to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and repay £3,794.86 to Stoke City Council, and was ordered to pay £350 costs.
Benefit claimants must inform the Department of Work and Pensions if their bank balance exceeds £16,000, either due to a windfall or inheritance. However Banana, who appeared on the Channel 4 show hosted by Noel Edmonds in November 2011, did not disclose her winnings.
She admitted failing to disclose her windfall separately to both the DWP and Stoke City Council with the intention of making a gain between March 28, 2011 and May 13, 2012.
The council said in all she had been overpaid about £7,200 in housing benefit, council tax and income support.
She also admitted failing to declare to the DWP and the council her employment at a chemists, medical surgery and Longton Cottage Hospital.
Banana, of Bentilee, further admitted making a false representation on an Income Support application form by not declaring she was owed her TV gameshow winnings, in April 2011.
She also pleaded guilty to wrongly claiming free school meals for three children.
In mitigation, her solicitor David Green said "all remorse and shame has been expressed by my client".
He added offers of employment for Banana had been withdrawn when potential employers discovered her case in the press.
"Whatever happens today cannot outweigh her punishment already," said Mr Green.
"She doesn't complain and accepts she has done wrong and that the public has a right to know about the case through the media.
"But she has been significantly affected."
He said one of her daughters had been beaten up at school as a result of Banana's notoriety while vandals had targeted the family home.
Mr Green added Banana had begun repaying what she had wrongly claimed and was going to sell a £60,000 property in Turkey she had bought with the winnings to help settle the rest of her debt.
She now has 12 months to settle her over-payments in full.
Councillor Paul Shotton, Stoke-on-Trent City Council deputy leader, said Banana's actions in fraudulently claiming benefit were "offensive" both to people with genuine claims and to taxpayers who provide the money.
He said: "We are pleased with the court verdict and, as with all of these cases, the money that was obtained fraudulently will now be paid back in full to the council."
He added: "She's won a substantial amount of money and failed to declare it, then continued to take money out of the system.
"Like many other councils, we've got issues meaning we need to make cuts to services but at least £1 million is fraudulently going out of the council coffers to be spent on people like Caroline Banana.
"We take a serious view of this sort of fraud and will always look to prosecute."
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