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.