Family trio sentenced for £500,000 charity fraud

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The Independent Online

Three family members were sentenced today for defrauding charities of more than £500,000 by applying for funding for spurious projects.

Among the groups which awarded them funds in good faith were the Big Lottery Fund, BBC Children in Need and Comic Relief.

Former asylum seeker Kitumbula "Joseph" Mazambi, 44, his wife Mapendo Kasiba, 40, and his brother Kyalemaninwa "Jack" Mazambi, 42, applied for up to £60,000 a time for projects that police said were so vague and nebulous it would be extremely difficult to check whether they had in fact been carried out.

Investigators found little or no evidence of bona-fide charitable work being done, but ample evidence of the suspects using the funds to finance their lifestyles or sending the money abroad.

During a seven-week trial at Isleworth Crown Court in west London, a jury heard how Kitumbula Mazambi, a biology graduate of the University of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), masterminded the fraud.

The 44-year-old fled the DRC fearing persecution before entering the UK as an asylum seeker during the mid-1990s.

After becoming aware of the wealth of small grants available from charities, he successfully applied for funds for a number of spurious projects.

He discovered a method of avoiding justifying how the funds were spent - taking advantage of the sporadic checks on how the money was being used.

Working alongside his co-defendants, Kitumbula created numerous bodies to maximise the grants that they could obtain.

Each of these organisations purported to benefit people from the Democratic Republic of Congo and other surrounding Great Lakes countries living both in the UK and in Africa.

While some charitable work was done, the vast majority of paperwork that police uncovered could not be verified, had little or no audit trail and involved fraudulent invoices.

A large proportion of the money was frittered away on "volunteer expenses", stationary, petrol for undisclosed vehicles and administration costs, investigators said.

The three also sold their fraud expertise to other bogus claimants for substantial sums.

And, police said, they were the main players operating within a much larger cell.

Six other defendants were convicted of fraud in four previous trials and are currently serving a combined prison sentence of more than 17 years.

The nine together defrauded charities of more than £1 million.

The fraudsters were eventually caught when a grants officer from the Big Lottery Fund noticed suspicious similarities between a number of different grant applications in August 2004.

She alerted her supervisor who, in turn, alerted the Metropolitan Police.

The three sentenced today were charged with conspiracy to defraud in July 2009.

All three were found guilty at Isleworth Crown Court on August 4, a Met spokesman said.

Kitumbula Mazambi, of Tewkesbury Close, Tottenham, north London, was jailed for four years, Kyalemaninwa Mazambi, of Winsford Road, Coventry, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years imprisonment and Mapendo Kasiba, of Tewkesbury Close, Tottenham, was given a two-year prison sentence suspended for 18 months, the spokesman said.

Welcoming the sentencing, investigating officer Detective Constable Roger Boydell-Smith said: "It is important when money is obtained by way of grants for charitable purposes that the public has confidence that the money is not used dishonestly.

"These individuals cynically betrayed their positions of trust by systematically stealing charitable funds raised in good faith by members of the public.

"Money that should have helped those in need was used instead for their own activities.

"I hope that these prison sentences have sent a strong message to those intent on defrauding charities that they will be unequivocally held to account for their actions."

A fourth defendant, Bulunda Lungumbu, 52, was found not guilty.