A family of housing benefit cheats built up a buy-to-let empire worth £1.5m.
They used the benefit hand-outs to finance mortgage payments on five homes in Barnet, Ealing and Waltham Forest, and moved tenants in who had no idea that their landlords were fraudsters.
The trial of Riccardo Guthrie, 33, his sisters Cosima, 25, and Bianca, 35, and her ex-partner Courtney Campbell, 45, made legal history.
The judge halted the trial in March after the jury had retired to consider their verdict.
Amid allegations that they had been ‘nobbled’, the judge, Miss Recorder Caroline English, dismissed the jury. She then ruled that she could deliver the verdicts rather than order an expensive and lengthy retrial.
Riccardo Guthrie was jailed for three years for conspiracy to defraud, Bianca Guthrie for two years and Cosima Guthrie for 18 months.
Campbell received a 12-month suspended sentence and was ordered to carry out 160 hours of unpaid work. The judge spared him jail because he was the sole carer of his children and played a minor part in the scam.
The four were accused of illegally claiming around £112,000 in housing benefit and council tax from Barnet Council, and were brought to justice after a five-year investigation by police and Barnet Council’s legal department and corporate anti-fraud team.
A fifth defendant, Vanessa Williams, 40, was cleared of any wrongdoing in a verdict delivered by the jury before they were discharged by the judge.
The case has made legal history, as it was the first time in England and Wales where a jury has been discharged during a trial and the judge has gone on to deliver the verdicts.
The defendants’ lawyers had objected to the judge’s decision to continue, but the Appeal Court ruled the judge was within her rights and refused them permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Under the 2003 Criminal Justice Act, judges may continue a trial on their own if satisfied the jury has been subject to interference and that the defendants can still have a fair trial. The provision had never previously been used.
Richard Cornelius, leader of Barnet Council, said: “This was a systematic and highly organised attack on the benefit system to cheat the taxpayer out of more than £100,000.
“Barnet Council is committed to making sure any fraud is punished and I think that is illustrated by the way we have pursued this case.
“During these difficult economic times it’s utterly wrong that these individuals should use public money to finance the purchase of a string of properties in Barnet and across London.”
Barnet Council has commenced confiscation proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act.