A CONMAN who set up crisis loans by claiming people were homeless before taking a cut of the money from their benefit handout has been jailed.
Sam Smith made the false claims by using personal details given to him by cash-strapped people desperate for money, and went on to fleece benefits chiefs to hand over payments to cover four weeks rent.
An operation was set up the Benefits Agency when staff at Hartlepool JobCentre became wary of some of the transactions, and CCTV cameras around Hartlepool town centre captured claimants picking up their cash.
In total, 22 people were involved in the scam, and 19 men and two women – all from Hartlepool – pleaded guilty to fraud charges at Teesside Crown Court yesterday.
But after jailing Smith for four years, the 22 other defendants were spared prison after being described as vulnerable and being dragged into the con by Smith.
The court heard that they gave Smith their dates of birth and National Insurance number, and he then applied to the JobCentre for the emergency loans on their behalf.
In each case, he posed as the applicant, claiming to have been made homeless and saying the cash was to pay for four weeks rent in advance, said prosecutor Yvonne Taylor.
He also provided the name of a bogus landlord for the Department of Work and Pensions to check with - but each time the “landlord” was either Smith or an accomplice.
Smith fled from Hartlepool to Plymouth when the scam was uncovered but continued his frauds by stealing the identities of others and continuing to make claims.
After his arrest, Smith told police: “If people were stupid enough to give me their details it’s their fault.”
Appearing in court via a live video-link from Exeter Prison, he was jailed for four years after he admitted conspiracy to defraud, 12 charges of fraud and seven of retaining a wrongful credit.
His barrister, Piers Norsworthy, told the court that Smith had an ability to remember facts and figures but wanted to use his skill lawfully after his release.
Judge Simon Bourne-Arton, QC, described him as “determined and sophisticated” and said: “It is quite clear you will continue until you are stopped and checked.
“You believe the benefit system is there to be raided. The public requires you to be locked up for some considerable time to stop you committing these offences.”
Those who pleaded guilty to conspiring with the ringleader to obtain crisis loans by false representation are: David Brack, 26, of Kelvin Grove (£340), Craig Anderson, 30, of York Road (£310), Lindsey Brackstone, 30, of Heathfield Drive, Lee Hakansson, 22, of Parton Street (£325), Shaun Lowery, 30, of Heathfield Drive (£475), Eric Thomson, 53, of Ridley Court (£367), Leon Robinson, 24, of Caithness Road (£320), Jonathan Lord, 25, of Moffatt Road (£340), Clare Rogan, 36, of Carrick Street (£360), Jason Hewitson, 38, of Pine Grove (£345).
Jonathan Martin, 25, of Iber Grove (£320), Darren Lowery, 29, of Monach Road (£320), Stuart Williams, 21, of Eskdale Road (£240), James Cockerill, 69, of Ridley Court, (£380), Terence Short, 31, of Newhome Court (£320), Paul Winship, 35, of Kerr Grove (£365), Lee McLoughlin, 36, of Brierton Lane (£320), Geoffrey Rowley, 54, of Thirlmere Street (£400), Colin Slimmings, 52, of Rodney Street (£340), and Colin Smettem, 42, of Mapleton Road (£350).
Stephen Stead, 40, of Hart Lane, was not sentenced because he is facing other unrelated charges; while Stephen Hamilton, 43, of Rodney Street, did not turn up.
A warrant was issued for his arrest.