Published: 00:00, 21 February 2005
| Updated: 12:28, 21 February 2005
A 32-year-old man has been sent to prison for 20 months for his part in what a judge described as a sophisticated benefit fraud.
Sakobo Mbuta, a father of two, pleaded guilty at Maidstone Crown Court to offences carried out last year at a Medway post office.
Tom Allen, prosecuting, said Mbuta was arrested after making a series of trips to Temple Post Office in Strood to cash stolen and forged Giro cheques between February and May.
"The forged cheques had had the names altered to match the names of bank and credit cards and the addresses had been changed to addresses in the local area," Mr Allen told the court.
Even the post office code on the Giro cheques had been altered allowing Temple to be the authorised post office, and the cash amounts on the documents had been increased.
"On 5 May a man who turned out to be Mr Mbuta was pointed out by post office staff to officers of the Department of Work and Pensions," said Mr Allen.
"He proceeded to cash four cheques, presenting bank and credit cards for identification. He was handed cash to the value of those cheques, and outside on the street he was approached by police."
When arrested the cards and bank details used as identification were found in Mbuta's possession, together with sums of money including marked bank notes which he had been handed in the post office. Mr Allen said the total amount obtained from the fraud was £11,448.99.
Louise Oakley, defending, said Mbuta, of St Anne's Road, Tottenham, arrived in the UK in 2000, seeking political asylum because of problems he was experiencing in the Congo. He was granted indefinite leave to remain and was later joined by his wife.
French-speaking Mbuta had gained qualifications in sales and marketing while in his homeland, but had only been able to find "sporadic work" in warehouses since his arrival. He and his wife had no family in this country.
"Since the arrival of their second child his wife has suffered badly from post natal depression and he has found himself in the situation of being the main carer for the children," said Miss Oakley.
She said the reasons behind the offences was the need to support his family and that he had received £50 for each Giro that was cashed - the rest being handed over to others who he was not willing to name.
Miss Oakley said the defendant was not involved in the theft or alteration of the cheques. He was simply supplied with the documentation needed.
She added that he deeply regretted his behaviour and that it was his wife who would suffer if he was sent to prison as she spoke no English.
Sentencing Mbuta, Mr Recorder David Griffith-Jones, QC, told him he was sentencing him for 31 offences of dishonesty together with 18 further offences of dishonesty he had been asked to take into consideration, plus one offence of failing to surrender to bail on January 4.
"Taking all these offences together, I take the view that they are so serious that an immediate prison sentence is necessary."
He added: "This course of offending formed part of a planned operation conducted by a professional organisation of some kind. It involved a degree of planning and sophistication. It was calculated too, and did, result in the wrongful obtaining of a considerable amount of money."
Giving credit for his guilty pleas, the judge said the least sentence he could pass - taking into account the seriousness of the offences - was 18 months concurrent on each.
A further two months was given for the bail offence, making a total of 20 months, together with a deprivation order in respect of the £1,150 that was found on the defendant at the time of his arrest.
Mbuta had pleaded guilty to four offences of receiving stolen goods and asked for 18 further offences to be considered. He had also admitted six offences of obtaining money by deception and 21 of using a false instrument.