Published: 13:30, 13 August 2014 |
Updated: 11:42, 15 August 2014
A benefits cheat who fleeced taxpayers out of nearly £74,000 while running a multi-million pound property empire has been jailed for a year.
Mogul Seema Bassi, 49, claimed she was a jobless single mum to pocket handouts for more than a decade.
But she was secretly amassing an impressive property portfolio across Kent, mostly in Gravesend, and raking in a fortune from tenants, Snaresbrook Crown Court heard.
Bassi owned 26 homes worth a total of £2.6million, providing her with about £150,000 in rent a year.
She bought her first property in 1994 and started claiming benefits three years later.
Her portfolio included 14 flats and four houses in Gravesend, a house in Canterbury, three flats in Herne Bay, a two-bedroom terrace in Greenhithe, and a house in Richmond Street, Hartlepool, Cleveland.
Some of the properties were leased to Gravesham council as sheltered housing for asylum seekers, the court heard.
However, after the case, a council spokesman said this was not true and they did not lease accommodation to asylum seekers.
Her fraud was uncovered after Gravesham council started investigating her brother for failing to pay council tax in 2012.
The paper trail led investigators to contact Redbridge council for more details about Bassi, when they learned she had bought 18 houses from her brother.
"If it were not for the diligence of the Gravesham officers, Ms Bassi could have continued to claim benefits that she was not entitled..." - council leader John Burden
Stacks of documents were seized from Bassi's home in Ilford, including bank statements and tenancy agreements.
It was discovered she had told mortgage lenders she earned £69,200 annually working for a property firm, but was still telling the council she was unemployed.
In total the mother-of-one pocketed £67,819 in housing benefits and £6,118 in council tax benefits.
Questioned by police she first said the properties were held in trust for different members of her extended family, although no evidence was found to prove that such a trust existed.
She then claimed the 18 properties that had previously belonged to her brother had been put in her name because he was unwell and could no longer manage them.
Bassi maintained she did not profit financially from any of the homes and said she did consider herself to be their owner.
It emerged Bassi had become a director of a property firm called Overcliffe Residents Company last year.
A spokesman for the company speaking after the case said: "She was removed as a director as soon as the Board became aware of her crime."
Bassi, of Studley Drive, Ilford, Essex, denied the charges but was convicted of five counts of fraud after a trial earlier this year.
Judge David Radford sentenced her to 12 months' jail.
Irshad Sheikh, defending, said none of the cash had been repaid and Bassi was now facing bankruptcy with debts of at least £75,000.
She also owed a further £53,000 in mortgage arrears on her various properties, all of which have now been transferred back to her brother.
Speaking after the case, a council spokesman said: "Bassi's fraudulent activity was uncovered when an officer from Gravesham Borough Council was trying to trace her for failure to pay council tax with a combined debt in excess of £7,500 on the 14 properties that she owns in Gravesend.
"The council's revenues officer tracked her down to Redbridge and when no response was given to a letter that was sent to her home.
"Redbridge Council was contacted and it was found that Ms Bassi was fraudulently claiming benefits.
"The Gravesham officer informed Redbridge Council of the 14 properties that she owned in Gravesend and they began their own investigation which uncovered a portfolio of homes all over the country.
"Some of the properties owned by Ms Bassi in Gravesend were rented to people that are claiming housing benefit."
Council leader John Burden said: "This is an example of the vigilance of council officers which has led to the discovery of a £70,000 fraud against the public.
"If it were not for the diligence of the Gravesham officers, Ms Bassi could have continued to claim benefits that she was not entitled."
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