Luxury yacht couple jailed over benefits con
A couple who ran a £40,000 benefits swindle while sailing the world on a luxury yacht were jailed today.
Swindlers Shashi Bacheta, 52, and Jeffrey Cole, 58, admitted a total of 20 charges connected with the elaborate fraud, which was played out over almost five years.
Bacheta swindled her way to a series of benefits claiming she was too ill even to walk while she was scuba diving in Kenya and planning to carry on around the world on her lover's £100,000 yacht, The Kismet.
She was jailed for 21 months today at Swansea Crown Court after the full details of the case were spelled out to a judge over a two-hour period.
Her lover, who was at the "helm" of the con, was jailed for nine months.
Anju Bacheta, 28, daughter of the accused, cried "Oh my God, that's my mother", as Bacheta was taken away to prison.
She was then fined £500 for the minor part she played in the swindle, after admitting fraudulently claiming several hundred pounds for being her mother's carer.
Judge Huw Davies QC gave Cole a lesser jail sentence because of the smaller amount of just over £13,000 he had jointly claimed with Bacheta over the period.
He used an inheritance to buy the luxury yacht, which was the springboard for the couple's sailing trips from where it was moored in Gran Canaria.
Passing sentence, the judge told him: "You were at the helm in a very real sense and set off to enjoy not only your own wealth but such money as you managed to get from public funds."
Carl Harrison, prosecuting, told the court that Bacheta had claimed to be living in a succession of addresses in Swansea, South Wales, where her benefit claims were made.
At the time, she was variously scuba diving in Kenya, swimming with dolphins in the Canary Islands and planning to sail further around the world with Cole.
When the couple were arrested in January last year after an 18-month Department of Work and Pensions investigation in conjunction with Swansea Council, they were already planning a road trip across the US in an imported Volkswagen camper van.
Bacheta, a mother of three, was caught out when investigators tracked down the yacht on an internet blog site called smugmug.com.
On the blog was a series of photographs of Bacheta and her lover Cole lounging on the decks of the Kismet at a time when she claimed to be too ill to get out of bed.
Bacheta had admitted 16 offences of fraudulently claiming housing and council tax benefit, false accounting and obtaining money transfers by deception from the end of 2002 until the start of last year.
Cole, her accomplice, admitted four charges including receiving cash by deception for Bacheta, false accounting and wrongfully obtaining credit.
Mr Harrison outlined in court the full extent of the benefits swindle, amounting to just over £43,000 in total, carried out by the couple.
Bacheta moved to Swansea after her marriage had broken up in 2002. She had trained as an accountant but became bankrupt soon after the move and started claiming benefits.
After meeting Cole, however, she moved in with him and fraudulently claimed housing benefits from a succession of flats he owned in the city.
When he bought a Swansea Valley post office business he employed her to manage it and she arranged to have her benefits paid directly into a Post Office account there.
At the time she claimed to be living alone with her children and even went so far as to write to the council claiming that Cole, the landlord, would throw them out if the benefit was not paid.
"I am in a desperate situation. I have nothing to provide the basics for my children," she wrote in November 2003.
"In fact at that stage she was already living with Geoffrey Cole," Mr Harrison said.
He said that while working at the post office Bacheta and Cole would entertain staff on the luxury yacht at Swansea Marina with barbecues.
Later they were to visit Kenya and South Africa on holiday, calling in at what was to become their base in Gran Canaria.
Investigators seized a series of computers and passports from the couple's Swansea address after their arrest and found evidence of more foreign jaunts.
They both had three month visa stamps for Kenya from April 2004 from where they had been on several safaris.
On other occasions they cruised around the Mediterranean on the luxury yacht before heading to North Africa.
Mr Harrison said that in April 2006: "There is evidence that they went to Portugal, carried on down the North African coast and went on to the Canary Islands."
He said that from changes made to Cole's multi-trip travel insurance they had also planned to sail to the Caribbean.
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