Woman jailed over Roma community benefits scam

A mother-of-one who exploited members of the Roma community she claimed to be helping was jailed for her part in a multimillion-pound benefits scam today.







Lavinia Olmazu, 31, abused her position as a campaigner for Roma gipsies' rights by masterminding a plot to supply immigrants with false documentation in order to obtain National Insurance numbers, a court heard.



She was jailed for two years and three months after helping 172 Romanians illegally claim a total of £2.9 million in child tax credits, working tax credits and child benefits between 2007 and 2009.



Sentencing her at Southwark Crown Court, Judge Deborah Taylor said Olmazu's role in the fraud was "made easier" through her work as an outreach worker for Haringey and Waltham Forest councils in north London, which gave her access to members of the Roma community.



She added: "You identified individuals who wished to be involved in this scheme and in doing so, abused your position with a number of charities.



"You were a previously well-respected woman working in human rights. You have now lost your reputation by involving yourself in this fraud."



Immigrants from Romania are not entitled to a National Insurance number unless they can prove to authorities that they have been employed.



The court heard Olmazu and her partner Alin Enachi, 30, would offer false documents and references to the migrants for a fee.



Enachi worked as an interpreter, while Olmazu, who has an 11-year-old son, gained a high profile as an advocate for Roma rights, attending public protests on behalf of the community.



Olmazu was involved with The Big Issue, working as a self-employed consultant who helped Roma people wishing to sell the magazine. She also set up a company called Roma Concern, using it as a front for the fraud she committed with Enachi.



The pair created false companies to issue bogus references and invoices for immigrants, while other members of the gang referred families to them.



A total of 368 Romanians gained National Insurance numbers through the gang, with 172 of them going on to illegally claim benefits.



Hugh Davies, prosecuting, said Olmazu and her partner "orchestrated" the fraud, which also entitled the immigrants to NHS treatment.



Mr Davies said: "Given her high-profile background, she was shown to be intimately connected to the false documentation used, and to have abused her position helping those in the Roma community to her personal and financial advantage.



"Her motives were not altruistic, they were commercial."



Michael Cogan, defending, praised his client for her "courage" in admitting conspiracy to supply articles for use in fraud, adding: "This plea represents for her a spectacular fall from grace which she realises has wrecked a career devoted to caring for others."



Olmazu has already spent 248 days in custody, which will count towards the length of her sentence.



Superintendent Bernie Gravett, of Operation Golf, a joint UK and Romanian investigation into fraud and trafficking in the Roma community, said after the sentencing: "Lavinia Olmazu aided and abetted members of an organised criminal network which in this case exploited these families to commit crime in the UK.



"This complex scam would have defrauded the UK authorities of more than £10 million had the plan fully succeeded."



Detective Constable Melanie Groves, who led the investigation into Olmazu and her seven fellow gang members, said after the sentencing: "Olmazu is an educated Roma lady who abused her position of trust and purported to be trying to help Roma people integrate into this country, yet actually assisted them to obtain benefits through false pretences.



"This undermines the work of those who are genuinely concerned with the difficult issues Roma people face throughout Europe."



Olmazu's associates, including a group of four brothers, were sentenced to a total of more than nine years in July.



Enachi was given a sentence of two years and eight months after admitting the same charge as his girlfriend. The court heard £40,000 was discovered to have passed through his bank account.



Cristian Dumitru, 29, of Junction Road, north London, was jailed for two years and six months, after also admitting conspiracy to supply articles for use in fraud.



He admitted two further counts of fraud, receiving 14-month prison sentences for each to run concurrently with his other sentence. He was also charged with one count of conspiracy to commit fraud, which will remain on file.



A Scotland Yard spokesman said Cristian Dumitru never had a legitimate job in the UK yet was found to have put £121,000 through his bank account, £79,000 of which he could not account for. He sent money back to other gang members in Romania, the spokesman added.



Paula Mihai, 25, Cristian Dumitru's partner, also of Junction Road, was sentenced to 12 months for two counts of fraud.



Stelian Dumitru, 26, and his partner Nicoleta Vasile, 25, both of Northumberland Park, north London, were each given 12-month sentences after pleading guilty to two counts of fraud.



Daniel Dumitru, 20, also of Northumberland Park, was sentenced to eight months, and Ioan Dumitru, 22, of Walpole Road, north London, was given four months, both after pleading guilty to two counts of fraud each.



A confiscation hearing will take place at a later date. Scotland Yard said it will seek the deportation of the gang members sentenced to more than 12 months in prison.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment