The UKBA has announced that several members of an eastern European gang who conned the UK taxpayer out of £450,000 have been jailed for a total of more than 13 years, following an investigation by the UK Border Agency’s North East immigration crime team.
Czech nationals Peter Bogar and Jarmila Konopova, aged 46 and 52 respectively, were part of a gang of six who recruited people from eastern Europe to the UK. The gang then used these people – known as ‘horses’ – to set up false claims for working tax credits and child benefit, before sending them home once the claims were established. The gang would then continue to fraudulently claim the cash.
The gang members were caught following a routine enquiry into Bogar and Konopova’s housing benefit, which raised suspicions and sparked an extensive investigation by the immigration crime team. A series of dawn raids took place last October, targeting 20 addresses across Newcastle and Gateshead – including Bogar and Konopova’s home in Walcher Grove, Gateshead. More than 80 officers were involved in the raids, with substantial support from Northumbria Police.
Bogar and Konopova were jailed yesterday for four years and 21 months respectively at Newcastle Crown Court. Three other gang members were also sentenced: Martin Balog, aged 27, received a three-year jail term, as did 35-year-old Martin Bogar; and Paulina Bogarova, also 35, was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment. All had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud by deception.
The sixth gang member, 55-year-old Miroslav Bogar, has also pleaded guilty to the charge and will be sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court tomorrow.
Detective Inspector Graham Brown, who leads the North East immigration crime team, said:
‘We welcome the sentences handed out today, which reflect the severity of this offence. Benefit fraud is not a victimless crime – it is stealing from everyone in society. This was a scam engineered by foreign nationals simply to steal large sums of money from the UK taxpayer.
‘We have worked closely with Northumbria Police, other government departments (including HM Revenue & Customs and the Crown Prosecution Service) and police forces in the Czech Republic and Slovakia to build a case.
‘We will continue to use our powers to seek out and take action against those foreign nationals who abuse the hospitality of the UK. This can include removing convicted foreign criminals from the UK.
‘We would urge anyone with any information about immigration crime to get in touch with either the UK Border Agency or their local police force.’