Series looking at benefit fraud. Featuring the woman who pleaded poverty so she could con the taxpayer out of almost 50,000 pounds, all while running her own successful business.
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This programme tracks down thieves, exposes fraudsters
and brings help to those who really deserve it.
This is the front line in the battle against benefit fraud.
This is Saints And Scroungers.
Saints And Scroungers is all about busting benefit thieves
who steal millions every year,
and the crack team of investigators
determined to scupper their devious scams.
And we also shine a light on those who genuinely need the money,
and the people who help them get it. They are our saints.
The saints get help, and the fraudsters get their comeuppance.
And coming up on today's programme...
the businesswoman who pleaded poverty but conned the taxpayer
out of almost £50,000.
She's running a business, and declaring to a mortgage company
that she's got an income of £44,000 per annum.
And a four-legged friend gives an MS sufferer new hope.
Having a dog with me, to be able to pick things up
and help me open doors, would be wonderful.
But first, meet Tinuola Oginni.
She claimed to be penniless,
but she owned property and ran her own high-street business.
Over four years, she was suspected of stealing almost £50,000
in housing benefit, council-tax benefit
and income support.
Running a business is tough, especially in fashion,
where you need more than raw talent to survive.
You need to get out there, shout about what you're doing,
publicise your company. So it's probably not the best career choice
if you've got something to hide.
Three Rivers Council in Hertfordshire
began its investigation on Tinuola Oginni
following a tip-off from a neighbouring authority.
We originally received some information
from London borough of Harrow in 2007.
They suspected that Tinuola Oginni,
who resided within the Three Rivers District Council area,
was receiving benefit incorrectly.
Oginni was claiming housing benefit, council-tax benefit,
and income support.
The information that we received was alleging
that Oginni ran a business in Edgware, North London,
and that business, we believed,
dealt with the import/export of clothing.
Obviously it was important that we knew the true extent
of Oginni's assets, because if somebody has capital over 16,000,
they wouldn't be eligible for benefit.
The investigation team started by checking their files
in order to work out just how much benefit she had claimed from them.
We've got a claim form from Oginni,
purporting to be a single mother
living in privately rented accommodation
with no employment, and in receipt of income support.
Now, this was received in October of '03.
We then lead on to the next claim form
that was received in February 2005,
and again, it's the same details entered
for Miss Oginni living in the property on her own.
She's again not declared any employment,
no earnings whatsoever, no other income,
and no bank accounts declared.
If she was working and she didn't declare it on the forms,
then, she was committing an offence.
But, looking at her other claims, she had declared the same in 2006
Exactly the same details again -
single mother in a property, no income,
living on income support in privately rented accommodation.
Her address was given as Ballater Close in South Oxhey, Hertfordshire.
It certainly wouldn't be unusual to receive a claim.
It would be quite consistent with what we'd expect from that area
of high pockets of some deprivation,
but certainly a lot of benefit claims.
On the face of it, it looked like a normal claim,
and investigators didn't think they had much to go on.
But then the case took a new twist.
Out of the blue, Oginni wrote to the council.
Her letter was passed to a senior member of the fraud team.
Because of the sensitive nature of his work,
he has to remain anonymous.
Tinuola Oginni was claiming housing benefit
at the rented address in Ballater Close,
and she'd listed the landlord as living at an address
in Northwick Road. The handwritten letter that she'd submitted
to the housing-benefits department indicated she was moving
from the rented address to the same address the landlady was shown at,
so it seemed extremely odd that she was now moving to the same address
where her landlady was living. So I thought there was good reason
to do more stringent checks on the landlady in the new address.
Now this case had gone from being about an undeclared business
to something more complex.
To find out who owned the property Oginni claimed she was renting,
investigators did some digging at the Land Registry.
That actually identified Tinuola Oginni
as the owner of Northwick Road,
and that was a property that was shown on the Registry document
as being purchased in 2003
That showed us that Tinuola Oginni had lied
on several of the claim forms,
because she hadn't disclosed the ownership of any property.
She'd simply claimed that she was on a limited income
with no capital or business assets.
You don't buy a property and forget it, while making a claim for benefit
on another address, alleging you've got nowhere to live
and you're in rented accommodation.
It was an unexpected breakthrough,
because it's quite clear that she'd owned this property
for a number of years, and hadn't told the council.
Incredible! So Oginni had owned a property since 2003,
but she'd kept it quiet, and all the time she was claiming benefits.
Now the investigators turned their attention
to her fashion business.
The original tip-off from Harrow fraud office
indicated her connection to Tee Fashions.
I started to make further enquiries into the business link
to Tinuola Oginni, and my first port of call was Companies House.
Companies House holds the business accounts
and the details of the owners of all limited companies in the UK.
But this search threw up a new name.
Companies House came back with the name Tinuola Sijuwade
as being the company secretary of Tee Fashion.
Luckily it didn't fool the fraud team.
Harrow fraud office had previously provided the name Sijuwade
as a result of their enquiries, this was Tinuola Oginni's married name,
and also the date of birth for Tinuola Sijuwade
was the same as that of Tinuola Oginni.
But using two names didn't pull the wool over the investigators' eyes.
The use of the two names for the same person
is quite common in terms of benefit-fraud offences.
It was quite alarming to know that she was claiming
as a single person with no assets whatsoever,
and here we had a lady who clearly was linked to a business
that was trading, and also ownership of one property.
Hang on a mo! This lady owns a £200,000 house
and runs a high-street fashion business?
She doesn't sound like the sort of person
who should be claiming housing and council-tax benefit to me!
And she was claiming another benefit she didn't seem entitled to.
She was in receipt of national benefits,
in this particular case income support
from the Department for Work and Pensions.
Under normal investigation conditions,
we notify the DWP's fraud-investigation department
so that they can do their respective checks.
This was now a multi-agency investigation.
Intelligence already gathered suggested Oginni
had a history of moving properties,
and they needed to keep an eye on her.
This is the property that Oginni was living in with her family,
and we came down here initially to see whether it was suitable
for carrying out surveillance.
Er, it's a standard semi-detached house with a rear garden.
There's no rear access to the property,
so any surveillance would have had to be from the local vicinity,
including this road where we're parked now.
But it wasn't considered suitable
because of the street-lighting,
and in periods that we would have wanted to do the surveillance,
it was completely parked up. Also the people around here
are very surveillance-aware,
and that was one of the reasons that we discounted surveillance
as a means of obtaining any further evidence.
But they were keen to establish exactly what was going on,
and what sort of additional evidence they could gather.
On the initial drive-past, we noticed a lot of activity.
On later drive-pasts, there was no activity.
And we then started making enquiries about the property itself,
and we were told by some informants
that the people had actually moved out of the property.
I made some local enquiries, and I found out that the property
was on the market with a local estate agent.
I went down to the estate agent to have a chat with him,
and he told me, confirmed my suspicions,
that Tinuola Oginni had been living at that property with her family,
and that they had put the property on the market,
and that her whereabouts were potentially unknown.
With the house up for sale, it looked as if they might have reached a dead end.
Oginni seemed to have slipped through the net.
But investigators don't give up easily.
Gary went after another lead - the fashion business.
It was a business premises right in the middle of the Broadway.
It had the shutters down, but the sign was still up.
It was still Tee Fashions.
It was looking like Oginni had vanished.
What I did do, there's a pharmacy next door to the shop,
and I spoke to the assistant there
to see if he could give me any information
on who ran the shop or where Oginni might have gone.
He might have had a forwarding address, a mobile number for her.
But other than confirming what we could already see,
he wasn't able to provide any information.
The council's investigation had hit another brick wall.
We're now in a situation where we know that she's not at the house,
she's not at the business, so where has she gone?
That was the question. Where is she?
And that's what we needed to find out,
because to not trace her was not an option.
Later in the programme,
the team uncover more of Oginni's lies.
It brought up an address in Harrow
which was purchased by Tinuola Oginni.
But will they track her down and bring her to justice?
From the scroungers stealing from the benefits system,
and you, the taxpayer, to the people we call our saints -
individuals and organisations up and down the country
that go out of their way to offer help
to those in genuine need.
Sometimes it's the simplest things in life that we take for granted -
you know, like opening a door or turning on a light switch.
But just imagine what life would be like
if suddenly you weren't able to do those things. How would you cope,
and who would you turn to for help?
25 years ago, Janet Pearsons was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
I noticed a strange sensation in my legs as I was swimming,
and I thought, "That's strange. My legs aren't going
where they need to go." I was almost dragging them behind me.
And I began to have severe pins and needles in my hands,
and obviously went to see a doctor and then a consultant,
and I was diagnosed with MS.
As Janet's condition worsened,
it meant paying out for expensive adaptations to their home.
We had to have an extension done to the house
to make it easier for Janet to move about,
to gain access in and out of the front and the back of the house.
This is when I drop it on the floor.
-Janet relies on three visits a day from a carer.
This is paid for by Suffolk County Council
through a system of direct payments.
Anybody, from a small child to a very elderly person,
if they're eligible to get care from social-care services,
then, they can say, "I would like to have that care instead
as a direct payment," which means they can get the money,
and organise the care themselves.
Although carers come to help Janet with daily practicalities
like making meals, most of the time she's still on her own,
and life can be difficult.
Give me an idea of some of the problems you're having
with, one, being almost housebound,
and secondly, when you do venture out, you're accompanied by a chair.
I feel quite lonely going out on my own.
There doesn't seem a great purpose to going out.
Um, I do have difficulties sometimes just getting out of the house.
I sometimes drop my keys in full view of a busy road,
and it makes me very vulnerable, because, you know,
it's difficult to ask just anybody to help you pick up a set of keys
to your home. But having a dog would encourage me to go out more,
and have a reason to go out, have a purpose to go out.
Canine Partners was set up 20 years ago
to provide assistance dogs for people with disabilities.
Each dog receives £20,000 worth of training
before being placed in a home.
The charity relies entirely on donations.
The dogs are trained essentially as carers
for people who have mobility problems,
who have all sorts of complex disabilities,
and the dogs act as carers, performing tasks for them
that they couldn't do themselves.
Wendy Ireland knows what a difference these canine carers can make.
She can unload the washing machine. She opens doors.
She picks things up. She gets me the telephone.
And it's not just around the home that Mia has changed Wendy's life.
'One of the fantastic things is that she gets things off of shelves
'for me in shops and pays for shopping.'
Up on the table. Good girl! Good girl! Oh, got it?
Canine Partners covers the cost of training the dogs,
but, as they explained to Janet,
once she brings her assistance dog home,
she must pay for everything, from dog food to vets' bills.
I've done a few calculations myself,
um, to work out how much a dog would cost,
with insurance and food and...
Canine Partners require you to make sure
the dog is always kept in excellent health,
so there have to be regular six-monthly checks with a vet,
and the cost of all that in a year
would be about £1,500.
She'd done a lot of research into this,
and worked out a figure she thought was going to be manageable.
We agreed that it seemed a very good use of a direct payment,
and that we could increase her payments to facilitate that.
Suffolk Council agreed that it would pay £1,200 a year
towards Janet's £1,500 worth of dog expenses.
Now all she needed was a dog, and at last the charity had found one.
Janet was invited to their headquarters to meet Nikita.
It was her gentleness and her affectionate, slightly shy nature
that really seemed to fit quite well with Janet.
We have trained Nikita for Janet's specific requirements.
She has trouble with her hands, so she's going to need Nikita
to do a lot of picking up of dropped items,
opening cupboard doors, opening her front door,
shutting doors... The dogs will also shut doors.
Nikita, leave. Sit.
Janet has to complete a two-week residential course
to learn how to look after Nikita and practise her commands
before taking her home.
One of the problems Janet found is that, if she'd gone out
and she was wearing a coat, when she comes back,
she has to sit in her coat until her carer comes at the moment.
With Nikita, she'll take her coat off for her,
which is a small thing, but an incredibly big thing really.
It's just that independence of living a normal life again.
Janet's back home now with Nikita, so I thought I'd pay her a visit
and see how the two of them are getting on.
Sum it up for me. What has Nikita done for you?
She's changed my life completely.
She's enabled me to be the person,
some of the person that I was.
Um, she's helped me to find ways of living again,
and just being free and independent, and able to do more.
What other changes are you looking forward to
now that you've got Nikita?
Well, I hope to go into local town shopping again.
Also I hope one day to be able to go on a train
and go to London to meet my daughter
and perhaps have a day out shopping and doing girly things with her.
-Ladies who lunch.
-Wouldn't that be fantastic? I've never done that with my daughter.
That one dog has given Janet back her independence.
You've seen the smile on her face. You can't put a price on that.
Returning now to the world of the scroungers,
Three Rivers District Council believed this woman
had been ripping off the benefits system for four years.
She's a busy lady. Not content with running her own fashion business
and building up a property empire,
she's also giving investigators the run-around.
But sadly for her, the net is closing in.
Gary and his team have been gathering powerful evidence.
The only problem was, Tinuola Oginni had given them the slip.
She was no longer living at her house in Northwick Road,
and was nowhere to be seen at Tee Fashions.
We thought we'd lost her at that stage.
But after we'd done some checks with DWP -
they do in-depth checks with national-insurance numbers -
Tinuola Oginni once again surfaced at an address in Stevenage,
where she was claiming benefits with the local authority
in that particular area, as well.
Claiming benefits again?
Investigators were now more determined than ever.
They put Oginni's property in Stevenage under surveillance
so she didn't disappear while they gathered their final pieces of evidence.
Whilst surveillance was being undertaken,
I started to make enquiries under the Social Security Fraud Act
with a number of banking institutions,
and they provided me with information
to show that Tinuola Oginni had quite a number of bank accounts
which she hadn't previously disclosed.
Between 2003 and 2007, Tinuola Oginni was making a profit
from the business Tee Fashions.
Investigators then ran a search with the National Anti-Fraud Network,
a database of UK fraud intelligence for local authorities.
It matches names with known addresses,
and they discovered Oginni had owned another property.
It brought up an address in Harrow,
which was an address at Brancker Road.
Tinuola Oginni purchased the property in 2003 for 162,000.
Three years later she'd sold it for 215,000,
so she'd made nearly £50,000 profit.
£50,000? That's three times more than the maximum
anyone's allowed to have to qualify for housing benefit.
And that's only the start.
Investigators also obtained the mortgage document
for the property, which shed more light on Oginni's true finances.
She's interestingly given her income as,
for the period leading up to 2003,
when this mortgage application was made, in the preceding years,
of 49,000, 47,000 and 44,000 per annum.
A far cry from the story she'd given the council on her claim forms.
Luckily, the game was almost up for this scrounger.
In respect of the period of 2003 to 2007,
we've got Oginni, who's also using the identity of Sijuwade,
we've got her owning a property in South Oxhey,
we've got her owning a property that she's bought and sold in Harrow
and made profit of £50,000 for, and furthermore she's running a business
and declaring to a mortgage company that she's got an income
of £44,000 per annum.
It was time to bring Oginni in.
She was asked to attend an interview at Stevenage Jobcentre.
What she didn't know was who else was going to be there.
Miss Oginni was in an interview room
on the proviso that she was there for an interview
regarding her benefit claims.
She had no idea that we were going to arrive.
We went upstairs.
I opened the door and introduced myself.
She looked very shocked to see police officers standing there.
Her expression was one of surprise. And I explained who I was,
and why I was there,
and I asked her to confirm her name and her date of birth
just to make sure that I had the right person.
I then arrested her on suspicion of benefit fraud
that had occurred between 2003 and the present date.
I then explained to Miss Oginni that I would be handcuffing her.
At that point she started moving her arms away,
and said, "I won't be handcuffed. You're not handcuffing me."
I explained to Miss Oginni that she would be handcuffed.
She was now under arrest. She still continued to pull her arms away.
It took a little bit of persuasion,
to say, "You're coming to the police station."
"You are going to be handcuffed, so let's do it."
'And then she did comply.' Come with me.
We'll talk about this at the station.
With Oginni in custody,
PC Green and a team of fraud investigators
searched her house in Stevenage for further evidence.
We visited the address.
While we were there, I noticed that the living area,
um, there was about four suitcases,
and these suitcases, one had clothes in,
another one had chocolate and food items,
but there was one in particular that had a lot of paperwork.
It was full to the brim with paperwork
to do with benefit claims for different properties
and that property itself.
The guys from the other department I was with went through
and took anything they thought was evidence from there.
It was clear to me that the house wasn't lived in full time
by this lady. There were some indications there
that the suitcases were definitely hers,
and it did seem to me that she was just maybe passing through.
Back at the police station,
it was time for Oginni to provide some answers.
She was interviewed under caution in October 2009.
She was very emotional in the interview.
She was up and down all the time, getting upset one minute
and being very focussed the next.
She was even claiming that, um,
someone was going to kill her for giving the information.
It was very, very erratic in what she was telling us,
very confusing indeed. She confirmed she did own Northwick Road,
but she didn't see anything wrong in applying for benefits
at another address to cover the mortgage payments,
so she didn't think she was doing anything wrong.
What came out of that interview was that,
additional to the evidence we'd already obtained,
was some documents that indicated
that there were substantial amounts of jewellery
that had been purchased in Dubai,
there'd been trips to China, business trips to China...
Tinuola Oginni was charged with a number of counts
of fraudulently claiming benefits. She appeared at Ipswich Crown Court
in March 2010.
What Oginni maintained all the way through
was that she hadn't been dishonest, she'd acted appropriately,
and she had done nothing wrong.
And that was somebody that had capital,
lots of money, lots of travel to Dubai, China,
and yet none of this, when faced with the evidence,
seemed to matter to her. She didn't think that she acted dishonestly.
In total, Oginni was found guilty of fraudulently claiming £38,000
in housing and council-tax benefit from Three Rivers Council,
and £11,000 in income support
from the Department for Work and Pensions.
She was sentenced to 21 months in prison,
after which the council could seize all the money
she had stolen from the taxpayer.
Just goes to show that, even though some cases span years
and cover counties, fraud investigators always get their man -
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.
This episode features the woman who pleaded poverty so she could con the taxpayer out of almost 50,000 pounds over four years in housing benefit, council tax benefit and income support, while running her own successful business at the same time.
Plus how a four-legged friend brings hope and independence to an MS sufferer.