Series looking at benefit fraud. A Senior Benefit Officer becomes the centre of a two hundred thousand pound fraud investigation when investigators discover an inside job.
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Millions of pounds' worth of our taxes should be going to the most needy.
Trouble is, people keep stealing it.
Welcome to the world of Saints and Scroungers.
'Saints and Scroungers puts the spotlight on benefit thieves
'who ruthlessly steal millions of pounds every year from the British taxpayer.
'And we search out the saints, those who are too proud to claim
'and the people who get them the money they are entitled to.'
Coming up in today's programme,
the staggering £200,000 fraud that turned out to be an inside job.
I'm looking out across all the staff in the office,
knowing that one person out there was stealing money from us.
'And we meet the young hero who needs help after losing his leg serving our country.'
I'm petrified at this point, cos I'm thinking, "I've just been blown up,
"I know I'm in a minefield, this day cannot get any worse."
Every year, housing benefit fraud costs us, the British taxpayer,
hundreds of millions of pounds.
But luckily, councils have investigators and they're pretty good at spotting these fraudsters.
But every now and again, a case lands on their desk which surprises even them.
'Meet Badrul Islam.
'He's 43, married with three children
'and works for Newham Council.
'In his time there, he has worked as a benefit fraud officer and a senior benefit officer.
'In fact, after 13 years there, he's one of their most trusted employees.
'So, why is he hiding his face and making a quick getaway?
'Could it be because he's at the centre of a £200,000 fraud investigation?'
This case was very shocking, very surprising.
It wasn't something I had any experience of dealing with.
'This fraud would shake Newham Council to the core.
'Not just because it was a six-figure scam,
'but because this case was an inside job.
'Internal investigations are very sensitive
'because of the risk of wrongly accusing a colleague or tipping off the fraudster.
'Counter Fraud Manager Emma Vick was in charge of the case.'
I just was told that the benefits manager had a suspicion that a member of staff
was involved in something he shouldn't have been and could I deal with it?
They'd done an audit and as a result,
they'd found some suspicious large payments. That's when I got involved.
'The housing benefit team had found something fishy when they ran some routine checks on lump-sum payments.
There was some unusual payments being made.
In one particular payment,
we couldn't find any reasonable explanation
for why the payment had occurred.
Suddenly, there was a large payment of over £13,000 to a landlord.
So we went to the manager of the service
and we asked him for his expert advice about how this had arisen.
I had these two mysterious payments, didn't know where they'd come from,
how they'd occurred. A couple of times it had crossed my mind
that someone was defrauding us.
But it crosses your mind and then you sort of dismiss it.
'Housing benefit is a lifeline for people who would otherwise have no way of paying the rent.
'It can be paid to the tenant, landlord or letting agent.
'A back payment is unusual because it happens when there has been a change of circumstances,
'like the rent going up.
'The higher rate of benefit is backdated and paid out in a lump sum.
'It was a lump-sum payment that began this case.'
These particular instances were very, very unusual
-because the last transaction on the account was several years before.
-So at that point,
-you realised there's a rat in the kitchen.
-Yes, potentially, we've got an employee that's committing fraud.
I remember standing there in my office and looking out
across all the staff in the office knowing that one person out there was stealing money from us.
'While the IT department were tracing the log-in details for whoever had made the payments,
'David trawled through the records himself.'
Although the person had taken quite a lot of care to cover their tracks,
as often happens, a mistake had been made
so the person had, just one time, forgotten to do something
that meant that their name actually appeared,
so on the screen, I could suddenly see who'd carried out that transaction and I knew it was Badrul.
It was a heartbreaking discovery.
Badrul Islam was a trusted colleague and well-known in the council.
As soon as you realise this sort of thing is going on, it's a real shock.
Emma, how did you know Badrul Islam?
I knew Badrul because he was a benefits officer. He worked for part of Newham benefit service.
He was also well spoken, well turned out, he knew a lot of people,
a lot of people turned to him for advice because he'd worked here a long time, he was a family man,
-Would you ever now, with hindsight,
-ever, ever have suspected him of being a benefit cheat?
-No. There was nothing to indicate that.
The first payment that was identified as a result of the audit was just over £5,000.
As a result of that being identified, the rest were then looked at
and we found the total to be just over £71,000.
'This really is no ordinary fraud.
'An insider job to the tune of 70 grand.
'So, what was Badrul doing?'
He was taking old cases, cases that we'd paid housing benefit on several years ago, tenant had moved out.
He was going back to those old computer records...
..and he was increasing the rent on them.
If the rent was £150 a week, Badrul would go in
and for a period, a year, say, he would increase the rent to £250 a week.
Simply by doing that, he would create a payment
of £5,000 that he would then send
to the landlord on the case.
What we were looking at was the trail that showed that
it was his user ID that was responsible for
doing the transaction that caused the payment.
'So that's how he got the money out.
'But it had to be paid into a bank account,
'so Badrul needed an accomplice.'
We could see that the money was going to a company called Eurobangla, a local letting agent
owned by a gentleman called Mr Moin Uddin Ahmed.
'Eurobangla was the missing link.
'Badrul was generating the payments and his partner in crime, Moin Uddin Ahmed, was receiving them.
'The team suspect that once the money goes to Eurobangla, Badrul gets a share of it.
'It's a clever fraud, but the net is closing in on Badrul.'
For a fraud investigation team, nothing could be worse than finding out someone they knew and trusted
had been deceiving them right underneath their very noses.
But this team weren't about to let Badrul Islam off the hook.
This was a very serious crime. £71,000 is a lot of money,
so we decided very early on that we would have Mr Islam arrested and take the case in that direction.
Badrul Islam, at this point, didn't have a clue that you knew about him.
No, not a clue. He was at work, the same as he was any other day.
We'd made sure he was going to be in the office and we'd been tipped off that he was there.
About ten o'clock in the morning, we arrived.
We attended with a detective constable from Scotland Yard and also two uniformed police officers.
And I was asked to bring Badrul down.
So I speak to Badrul, said I'd like to go outside.
I remember he said to me, "Have you started smoking again?"
And he picked his coat up,
cos he thought we were going outside for a cigarette.
When they got to the front of the building, we went into an office.
I identified myself
and explained who I was and then I introduced the detective constable
to Mr Islam.
The blood literally drained from Badrul's face
and he just looked like his whole world had collapsed on him.
And if I had any doubts that he was guilty,
just his reaction at that moment just said
-he's definitely done this.
-He just stood there in front of us,
answered his name when he was asked his name and just looked like a very lonely man.
'Badrul was taken to Forest Gate Police Station.
'It was a dramatic morning, but at the station, there's more drama to come.
'Coming up, a search of Badrul's pockets
'reveals a piece of paper that blows the whole investigation wide open.'
I was concerned that this was getting bigger and bigger.
It started off as quite a serious case and now we were moving into
the realms of something that I've not dealt with before.
'Next, it's farewell fraudsters, and time to meet our saints.
'The thousands of people who don't know how or are too proud to ask for benefits.
'And the people who help them get what they're entitled to. Our saints.'
Soldiers and their families know that when they go to war,
there's always a chance they might not come home alive.
What few people realise is that many of those who do survive
come back with injuries so serious it can take them years to adapt to their disability.
And to do that takes an awful lot of support.
'Lance Corporal Jonathan Lee, or Jono to his friends, is a survivor.
'He served in some of the most hostile territories in the world.
'He was sent to Iraq twice and he served in Afghanistan.
'But when he was just 24, a roadside bomb changed his life forever.
'It detonated right underneath his vehicle
'and he was blown through the air.'
I'm head-first in the desert, flipped over, landed on my back.
I thought, "I'm going to die now," closed my eyes, went unconscious for a few seconds.
'Jono's leg was shattered. He needed urgent medical attention.'
I started dragging myself back to my vehicle, in a lot of pain.
And my mate screamed, "Stop! What you doing?"
There was a landmine about that far away from my head. He said, "Stop, I think you're in a minefield."
I'm petrified cos I'm thinking, "I've been blown up and I'm in a minefield. This day cannot get any worse."
I just heard on the radio, "If we don't get a medic to him now, I think this guy's going to die."
'With Jono's life hanging in the balance,
'they managed to evacuate him to the field hospital at Camp Bastion.
'Jono had escaped with his life,
'but at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham, there was some bad news in store.'
The surgeon came in, he sat down and he said, "I've got to have a chat with you." I'm like, "Yeah, OK."
He says, "We could do operations for 12 months and we might be able to save the leg,
"but I'm not sure we are going to be able to do it."
'Jono had to make one of the hardest decisions of his life.
'And three days later, he went into surgery to have his leg amputated.'
I woke up in the worst pain in the world.
Nobody could understand how much pain I was in. I need something now.
And the next day, I was in my wheelchair, spinning about.
Everybody was like, "You only lost your leg yesterday, be careful." I'm doing wheelies.
Three weeks later, I'm walking, and it's like, "Wow, I lost a leg and I'm walking!"
'Whilst he was struggling with adjusting to his new life,
'Jono also had to think about finances.
'Amputees who have lost limbs in service
'are entitled to apply for army compensation
'and may be entitled to a disability living allowance.
'A blue badge can help with parking.
'Servicemen and women going to the front line are also strongly encouraged
'to take out private military insurance, something Jono did.'
I got £150,000. That was within 24 hours of losing my leg.
'That might sound like a small fortune,
'but for an amputee, it doesn't go far.'
I've got to buy a house. That's half of it gone.
I've never lived in a house before, so I've got to kit the house out. Gone.
And I've got to make it disabled friendly.
There you go. That's another lot gone.
I need a car cos I can't walk around as much. That's another lot gone.
Three years later, you've got no money left.
'Jono's story is a familiar one to Charlie Streether.
'He's a welfare officer for the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association, or BLESMA.
'The charity was set up to help people in the forces who have lost limbs.
Things weren't quite in synch with what I could see of his injuries
to what had been applied for for his armed forces compensation scheme.
He said to me, "Your army compensation, have you done the form?"
"Yes, I've received a little bit of money off them, but it wasn't what I was expecting."
He said, "How much have you received?" So I told him
and he said, "That can't be right."
"Well, I filled the form in and sent it off." "Let me have a look at the form."
"Right, something hasn't happened here." He rung them up, he's doing all this, form after form after form.
'They had an agonising wait to find out if Jono would get the money he needed.'
So Charlie went away and within a few months of Charlie getting involved, that army sum got doubled.
If it wasn't for Charlie and BLESMA's involvement, I wouldn't have a house
anywhere near what I've got now.
And everything in it is from that army money, so if it wasn't for BLESMA and Charlie,
I wouldn't be able to afford it.
'It's a result that will have a positive impact on the rest of Jono's life.
'But Charlie's done so much more. He's helped Jono get the right level of disability living allowance,
'spoken to Motability about ensuring that he had access to a free car
'and even taking up the fight to get Jono a blue badge for parking.
'All in all, Charlie's made a massive difference to Jono's life.
'Today, our heroes are meeting up with some fellow amputees.
'They're doing some indoor skydiving, a challenge even for the able-bodied.'
The army and me have got together and we've approached the social services in Nottingham
and I'm doing work experience with them for two months, becoming a social worker.
And I want to do as much as I can to help people in my local area and extend it onwards.
If it wasn't for BLESMA, I don't think I'd be the person I am today.
'Jono, Charlie and BLESMA's mission to give something back to others is an inspiration to us all.
'They're heroes as well as saints.'
'Badrul Islam was a senior benefit officer for Newham Council.
'He's worked there for 13 years, but for the past year and a half,
'he's been authorising fake housing benefits
'worth more than £70,000.
'The recipient is a letting agent, Moin Uddin Ahmed,
'who works for a company called Eurobangla.'
The department was shocked to discover they had an in-house fraudster.
But things were about to get a whole lot more complex.
'Badrul had been arrested and taken to Forest Gate Police Station.'
It's normal practice, when you get booked in, all your pockets are looked through.
In his inside pocket of his jacket, there was a print-out
from the benefits system that detailed particular payments
to another landlord, a company called Elite Property Services.
'Dulal Haque runs Elite Property Services,
'the company named on Badrul's piece of paper.
'After discovering the print-out, the team hold off interviewing Badrul.
'Because they need to know if Haque has been receiving any bogus payments.'
This is the second company now.
So we phoned the benefits manager
and we then asked him to go back and check all the transactions
that Badrul's user ID may have done in relation to that company.
And then we sat around and waited.
-We got the phone call back saying, yes, he's done exactly the same.
It was looking to be £125,000.
-So we're talking about just under 200 grand in total.
'What a bombshell. Not only is this an inside job,
'but it's now a fraud in the region of £200,000.'
Can you remember how you felt when you heard that figure?
Stunned. I just felt drained.
You can feel that feeling of dread that goes through you and you think, "Oh, my God."
'Meanwhile, the investigators
'are still holding off interviewing Badrul.'
We were now concerned that there may be others involved
and we arranged for the police officer
to go and search Mr Islam's home address
to see if there were any further documents
that may lead us to further landlords.
Mr Islam's wife was present with a small baby and, obviously, she found that quite shocking
because, at that point, she thought her husband was at work. She didn't realise he had been arrested.
'The house search didn't unearth any more landlords,
'but it wasn't in vain.'
We found various bank accounts that we didn't know he had
that showed that he appeared to be in a bit of debt. He didn't have an awful lot of money.
'The bank statements also reveal some mysterious payments.'
We have a Nationwide account that shows lots of cash transactions, lots of cash payments being received
into that account, in particular, in September '06, £300,
and then in October '06, £200.
And this pattern follows all the way through. A cash credit there in October '06 of £1,620,
which is probably not that much different from what his wages would've been at that time,
so there's no way that has come from his legitimate income.
'It's hard to trace cash,
'so although the team suspect Ahmed and Haque
'are giving Badrul Islam a share of the money, they can't prove it.'
'Badrul has been sitting in the police station all day.
'But finally, at quarter to ten at night, they interview him.'
-Have you had any dealings with that company?
He didn't say anything. He said "no comment" to all the questions. He answered his name, address,
date of birth, but apart from that, no comment.
'It's the end of a long day. They've arrested Badrul, searched his house and his desk,
'discovered the fraud is now in the region of £200,000
'and found two other accomplices.
'But the case is far from over.
'To move the investigation on, the team now need to do some digging
'into the two letting agents who were at the receiving end of Badrul's fraudulent payments.'
-Tell me about Eurobangla and Elite. What happened with them?
-We decided to call them in for interviews
under caution. And they both cooperated throughout. They came for two interviews each,
turned up each time and both had a version of events very consistent with each other.
'The team needed to prove
'that Badrul was working in cahoots with Haque and Ahmed.
'So they asked them to explain how they knew him.'
-What did Badrul say about them?
-Exactly the same.
-Well, in further interviews,
he said he knew them because they would've come in, they were just landlords.
'They asked Haque and Ahmed to explain the massive payments
that had suddenly appeared in their accounts.'
-Is that excuse feasible?
-No. They would've received letters saying what the payments were for,
the dates, they knew they weren't entitled to them.
-So they're all denying any conspiracy to defraud the system.
-All the way through.
-Did that worry you?
Not really, because we were gathering together quite a lot of documentary evidence
including phone records that showed they'd been in touch with each other and we were confident.
'Although Badrul, Haque and Ahmed claim they've only met a few times,
'Emma and her team are pulling in everything they can to show that the suspected fraudsters
'know each other better than they're letting on.
'And a diary found of Badrul's desk at work provides a breakthrough.'
We went through it several times looking for anything that might be of interest.
On the page that's highlighted with an N, there's a mobile telephone number
that we know to be the mobile number of Mr Ahmed, the owner of Eurobangla.
Written above it is something in a language that we now know to be Bengali,
so we had that translated to see what it said. That says, "Brother Ahmed"
and in the Bengali language, that is a term of affection. It shows a very close relationship between them.
'Finding the diary entry is a eureka moment
'because it means Badrul and Ahmed have a much closer relationship than they're letting on.
'But the team manage to top it when they get hold of phone records for Badrul and the two letting agents.'
Each one of these tabs represents a phone call. The different colours indicate
where it would be a phone call between Badrul Islam and Moin Ahmed or Badrul Islam and Dulal Haque.
We tabled all of this and we presented that as part of our evidence
to show that there was a personal relationship between them
and to show that the dates that the phone calls happened
was quite often just before or after one of the transactions had been sent to a landlord.
'Now the team have a watertight case.
'The three swindlers denied knowing each other,
'but these phone records
'make them look like they've all been on speed dial.'
Once they knew about this, how much of a shock did it come to them?
One by one, that was when they started to change their pleas to guilty. It made them realise
that we were being serious and we weren't going to go away and we were gathering more and more evidence.
-And their pleas of innocence would fall on a judge's deaf ears.
-Because that in itself...
This completely blew out of the water their, "We've only spoken to each other one or two times
"in a work environment."
'In June 2010, before his court appearance,
'Badrul Islam changed his plea to guilty.
'Haque and Ahmed followed suit.
'On 5th August, 2010,
'they all turned up to Inner London Crown Court to hear their sentence.'
Today we're here for the sentencing of Badrul Islam, Dulal Haque and Moin Ahmed.
I'm hopeful that justice will be done and we'll get custodial sentences in relation to all three.
'And Emma's hopes were granted.
'The judge heard how Badrul, with the help of his two co-conspirators,
'had swindled the Newham taxpayers out of...
'And his sentence reflected this.
'Dulal Haque of Elite Letting Agents was given 12 months in jail.
Moin Uddin Ahmed got 14 months.
And Badrul Islam, the man on the inside,
was sentenced to two years and four months in prison.
I knew Badrul for a long time and I'm quite well aware of the devastating effect
this has had on his life, so I don't take any personal pleasure in it,
but it's just completely unacceptable that people can even think
that they can take money that doesn't belong to them. So I think justice has been done.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Dominic Littlewood presents a series looking at the work of fraud investigators searching out benefit thieves and meets the people they are stealing from - the genuine claimants.
A Senior Benefit Officer becomes the centre of a £200,000 fraud investigation when investigators discover an inside job!
Plus Dominic meets Lance-Corporal Jonathan Lee, who has served in some of the most hostile territories in the world. But a roadside bomb in Afghanistan changed his life forever.