With the very favourable reaction to my first blog post here still ring in my ears (and in my Twitter, email and Facebook inboxes – Thanks Everyone!) I was persuaded to hit the keyboard once again and recount another in the series of unusual cases from the recent past. This time the case of the not so holy or honest vicar – yes really!
This case, and many other unusual ones, came about whilst I was contracted as a Counter Fraud Consultant based in Grays, Essex for Thurrock Council. It landed on my desk one dreary late spring morning in amongst the usual fairly low grade (in comparison) undeclared Tax Credit and capital cases that are the bread and butter Benefit Fraud caseload for your everyday Local Authority Investigator.
Like all the best cases it didn’t strike me as being particularly exciting at first. It was a query from a colleague in Council Tax who had been making enquiries about a couple of addresses in the Corringham area over what appeared to be a mix up over what forename a person was using and I must admit to thinking “Why can’t Council Tax sort out their own query”, it was early morning and I was grumpy, given the lack of a bacon butty thus far. But, showing a modicum of professionalism, I dug in and set about making some initial checks.
The first place to start is always with the systems on your desktop and so I checked the details with Council Tax and Benefits systems and found the crux of the matter. Housing Benefits had been in pay since 2006 at an address in Mackley Drive, Corringham, to a guy, Mr Olouwole OSO (“Special Agent Oso“? – Ed), who was single and worked part time for a software company with a London address. He had stated he was renting it from a guy called Sigismund Wealth (oh the irony!) who lived in East London. Recently he stated his landlord of this address had changed and was now a Caroline Johnson.
At another address in Hassenbrook Road, Corringham, the Council Tax had recently changed, a new tenant David Oso had moved in from the address in Mackley Drive. I later discovered a very recent Housing Benefit application from Olouwole Oso advising he had moved from Mackley Drive to Hassenbrook Road and was renting from the owner (still with me?). My initial checks could find no trace of Mr Sigismund Wealth or Miss Caroline Johnson and this started to worry me.
I decided on a few neighbour visits whilst I awaited a whole crop of financial information I had requested under our powers as centrally registered and qualified investigators, such as Mr Oso’s bank statements and the paperwork been used to obtain the mortgages. Neighbours at Mackley drive were extremely helpful giving a witness statement to show they had known Mr and Mrs Oso next door as they had kids in the same class at school, surprising really as he was a single guy according to his claims, that his wife was a nurse who went off to work from the house every morning, that they had discussed how much Mr and Mrs Oso had paid for the house, that they had moved out some weeks ago but were still calling back for post. So, to put it mildly bells were going off all over in my head at this point and so I headed straight over to the address in Hassenbrook Road where Oso had supposedly moved to. The property appeared occupied and there was a car on the drive which I knew was one owned by Oso. I decided not to knock.
As luck would have it a few days later it all started coming together very quickly, too quickly really, especially with 40 other cases on the go, some of them just as complicated. Financial enquiries showed connections to his supposed estranged wife, her employment with a local NHS Trust, but crucially I could find no wages paid to him from his supposed employer. Checks under DPA 29(3) with East London Council’s showed the address for the landlords Wealth and then Johnson were both dud’s, they did exist but were shops with no registered connection to either name, and Oso’s supposed employers address was a Council flat!
Given the fact that I was looking at a potential of fraudulent Housing Benefit going back over three years I decided to involve Police, as the first rule of thumb in larger cases like this one is to preserve evidence and I know for sure if we had simply called Oso into the Council Offices for an IUC (Interview Under Caution) he would simply have vanished.
So that’s how we found ourselves at 5.30am one summer briefing Police about the case ready to collar Mr Oso and search his addresses. First was the Hassenbrook Road property. No answer, Police forced entry and found it absolutely empty, and this was just days after my visit when it had appeared very occupied. Neighbours saying ‘the couple’ had moved out in the last few days, sounded very familiar. So we went to the Mackley Drive property, again no answer, Police forced entry and the place had obviously been abandoned. We found a few things left behind including letters to both Mr and Mrs Oso, but more worryingly, numerous files containing evidence to suggest Oso had been acting as a broker to obtain mortgages for himself and other people, however without Olouwole Oso we really had nothing.
More detective work, this time with the schools his children attended, didn’t give a new address but we were told he ferried his youngest son to and from a certain local school. A quick recce and an application for RIPA authorised surveillance later, found a colleague and I parked up in the roads around the school at home time one afternoon. Soon enough he turned up to collect his child and he was followed away to an estate near Orset, but unfortunately in trying to strike the awkward balance between a successful follow and ‘showing out’ we, erm, lost him. We were not giving up there though, not a chance. So midnight on that same night found us scouring every road, parking area and drive on the estate until thankfully his car was located on the drive at a particular property, and two very happy investigators finished a very long shift.
36 hours later an arrest and search party were at the front door saying hello to a very sheepish Olouwole Oso. A full search took place after he was lifted and this place was a treasure trove of evidence. This included original unsigned tenancy agreements between Oso and Wealth, original mortgage application paperwork for Wealth and Johnson showing they were supposedly also employed by the same software company as Oso, bank statements and cheque books in the name of Wealth, blank payslips identical to those used in benefit claims and mortgage applications, as well as a further 70 items which would go on to be used as exhibits.
We also discovered in the search documents linking him as Pastor David Oso who was running his own church in East London, plus many typed or written sermons in which he implores his congregation to live by the rules of God and the laws of the country!
Yes, you’ve guessed it, Oso gave no comment replies to all questions at two formal interviews, but was charged with eight offences of Benefit Fraud totaling £40,000.00! He pleaded not guilty and put the public purse to the expense of two trials, having sacked his defence team at the first. He was found guilty of all charges and was sentenced on 15th December 2010 to two years in prison. The court was told he had invented the identity of Sigismund Wealth to purchase the property in Mackley Drive, claimed benefits as if he were the tenant and when the property was about to be repossessed he invented the identity of Caroline Johnson and obtained a mortgage with that identity and continued to claim benefits.
Judge Lodge described Oso as “a man who is dishonest to the core” and praised the Councils’ investigation saying, “This case could have been complex, haphazard and unclear. It was not, because of the way the case was investigated, prepared and prosecuted.”
In sharing the details of this case I would like to give special mention to my very tenacious fellow investigator, and also my ‘gaffer’ (neither wish to be named) and the fantastic barrister acting for the Council, Felicia Davy of Old Bailey Chambers.
FraudBloke is a Fraud Manager and Investigator, PINS and PINS(M) qualified, who has almost 25 years’ experience of identifying, investigating and prosecuting individuals who falsely claim benefits or commit Tenancy Fraud and Corporate Fraud.
Follow FraudBloke on Twitter: @FraudBloke