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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
tennisLive: Follow all the updates from Melbourne as Murray faces Czech Tomas Berdych in the semi-final
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
musicYou'll have to ask Taylor Swift first
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Joel Grey, now 82, won several awards for his role in Cabaret
people
Sport
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs
footballLive: All the latest transfer news as deadline day looms
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness