CPS pair sentenced to 6 years for £1m taxi fraud

cps

Facts

On 14th March 2013 two Crown Prosecution Service employees, Lisa Burrows (41) and Tahir Mahmood (50) pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to commit fraud under Criminal Law Act 1977 s 1. (See the CPS press release for details)

Burrows was an Area Finance Manager for CPS West Midlands. She was authorised to submit any invoice up to the value to £25,000 without recourse to a senior manager. Mahmood was a CPS employee (that employment was facilitated by Burrows) and prior to that employment he was a taxi driver. The Judge commented that it was that experience which underpinned the fraud.

The two CPS employees set up false invoices to claim for non-existent taxi rides (with a non-existent taxi firm) to transport non-existent witnesses to Court. Mahmood set up a bank account using an alternative surname to facilitate the fraud. They managed to get in over £1 million over a five year period, amounting to about £4,000 per week.

The BBC stated that they used the funds to pay off their mortgage, buy designer goods and to pay for trips to Dubai and New York,

Delay

The pair pleaded in March, so why the delay? The authorities conducted financial inquiries to trace the money, for the purposes of recovering the proceeds of the offences. We are unaware of the outcome of the inquiries. This should not have resulted in a discounted sentence.

Judges’ Comments

The sentencing remarks are available here.

Aside from the sheer amount involved, the features that make this conspiracy particularly serious are these:  This was a huge fraud on the public purse causing substantial losses to a department already under serious financial pressure.  It was carried out by someone in a position of very considerable trust.  The fraud involved significant planning by both of you.  It continued formore than five years.  It would have carried on had it not been discovered as is apparent from the fact that you, Burrows, had further bogus invoices ready for submission.  Very large sums of money remain outstanding.  Where the proceeds can be traced,they wentlargely on high living. The fraud was motivated purely by greed. The fact that the fraud involved the Crown Prosecution Service and was committed by a senior member of that Service – the body responsible for bringing criminals to justice – will have affected and eroded public confidence in that Service.

Plainly the element of breach of trust applies mostsignificantly to you, Burrows. Whilst you, Mahmood, were an employee of the Crown Prosecution Service in the latter stages of the fraud, your employment was not an integral part of the fraudulent process. Equally, Burriows, you have lost everything as a result of the fraud and I cannot ignore the fact that you, Mahmood, held the purse strings. I do not intend to distinguish between you in the sentence I impose.

The Judge appears to suggest that the aggravation of the breach of trust (most applicable to Burrows) is cancelled out by the fact she has ‘lost everything’, thereby allowing the Judge to treat the defendants equally for the purposes of sentence. He continued:

It is difficult to envisage a more serious fraud of its type that the one you committed. Had you contested the case the sentence in your case in the region of nine  years would have been appropriate.

Clearly the Judge took a dim view of the offending.

The Judge made no reference to the guidelines.

Sentence

In March, we looked at what sentence they could expect. News reports had suggested the pair had pleaded to Fraud Act 2006 offence. We said:

“The Fraud Guidelines will apply. The most suitable category is ‘Banking and Insurance Fraud’ (page 24). It is professionally planned and over a long period of time, and, given the amount of money, it is in the top category.

The starting point (based on £750,000) is 5 years, with a range of 4-7 years. This is after a trial and both will get full credit for pleading guilty.”

This was incorrect. The pair pleaded to conspiracy to commit fraud. They each received 6 years, representing a sentence of 9 years after a trial (as the Judge gave them full credit for their pleas).

When sentencing for conspiracy offences, it is usually appropriate to sentence for the individual role in the conspiracy, as well as participation in the overall conspiracy. This often results in higher sentences than where merely a substantive offence is charged. (Eg. conspiracy to burgle / burglary).

The guidelines

Officially, the guidelines do not apply. The guidelines apply to the offences listed in Annex A. Section 1 states:

…if a person agrees with any other person or persons that a course of conduct shall be pursued which, if the agreement is carried out in accordance with their intentions, either—

(a)will necessarily amount to or involve the commission of any offence or offences by one or more of the parties to the agreement…

he is guilty of the conspiracy to commit the offence in question.

The guideline specifically excludes conspiracy to defraud (a different common law offence) but doesnt mention conspiracy to commit the substantive offence (which is covered by the guideline). A little complicated.

Whilst the guidelines do not officially apply, I am of the view that they can be of some assistance.

The starting point of 5 years (based on £750,000) can be raised to reflect the fact that over £1m was obtained. That could legitimately be increased to 6 years (or a bit more), but is unlikely that a starting point of over 7 years would usually be deemed to be appropriate in absence of some serious aggravating factors. There plainly should be an increase for the breach of trust and the role played by each and the fact that the funds were used to finance a lavish lifestyle. There can be no increase for the length of time over which the fraud was carried out, nor the professional planning or multiple frauds, as this is already factored in to the starting point.

It would be necessary to increase the sentence to reflect the involvement in the conspiracy and so that may have taken the sentence towards the 9 year starting point that the Judge adopted.

Appeal?

Perhaps. In light of the fact that this was a conspiracy, the sentence doesnt seem so high as originally thought.

To the substantive offence, 6 years on a plea seems high. And it is hard to see how a sentence of 9 years, against a maximum of 10 could be upheld on an appeal. For a conspiracy, it may be that the sentence is about right, after considering the guidelines, adding a bit on for the conspiracy, the increased sum obtained and the lavish lifestyle it was used to fund.

Watch this space.

Note: This post was amended on 30 August 2013 after learning that the offence was conspiracy to commit fraud.

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18 thoughts on “CPS pair sentenced to 6 years for £1m taxi fraud

  1. Sisterhooduk

    Five years for rape but six years for fraud. This was a victimless crime, but I guess a million pounds is worth more than a violation

    Reply
  2. Andrew

    Pour decourager les autres, Sisterhooduk. And a campaign of rape over many years would get you more than five.

    And as a taxpayer I don’t agree it was victimless – I don’t suppose you regard tax-fraud as victimless, do you? And that’s quite apart from the question of confidence in the CPS. If you were the complainant in a rape case, which I beg and hope you never will be, you would want the prosecutor to be single-mindedly working on your and other cases – not running a fiddle on the side. So what would you have given them?

    On another point: she was earning £24,000, by no means a senior official in any sensible terms, and could authorise invoices of £25,000 without counter-signature. H’mm . . .

    Reply
    1. Sisterhooduk

      I would say if the CPS’s systems were so lax that it allowed a fairly unsophisticated crime of submitting bogus invoices (what checks did they run on BM Taxis) that the CPS too should be in the dock. Perhaps it should also consider the salary structure for its staff £24,000 doesn’t go far and more stringent processes would have picked this up sooner. What sentence would I have given two years suspended and seizure of their assets now and into the future until I’d recouped a reasonable percentage of that which they stole.

      Reply
      1. duncanheenan

        ‘Yea, they should be let off with a slap on the wrist, ‘cos the CPS was gagging for it. It was totally consensual, it was only later they changed their minds’ – if I may paraphrase your approach in this case, sister. Somewhat of a contrast to your approach in rape cases!

  3. Andrew

    Come off it, sister, if I may so abbreviate you; anything non-custodial would not cut it. As for seizure of assets I am with you – but they are never going to have enough earning capacity for what remains of their working lives – they are unemployable – for that to be significant.

    That the CPS’s systems were lax is obvious, a million pounds worth of obvious – but they are entitled to honesty even from underpaid staff. It was her duty – she seems to have been the prime mover in the early stages – to have pointed out the weakness, not to exploit it.

    In the last analysis: she was the Area Finance Manager and she went bent and she had to go down. And he was as much involved as she was and had to get the same. Of course if she had fought and he had pleaded she would have got more and vice versa.

    I agree that nine down to six is too much. Seven and a half down to five, if I was a betting man and the bookies took money on such things. But custody. Quite definitely.

    Reply
    1. Sisterhooduk

      Much to my surprise, earlier this year I received a cheque from the taxman it related to a period when I had paid too much tax over a three year period. I know I wasn’t the only person and not being a tax expert, like most people, I had no idea the HMRC had money that was rightfully mine. Millions of pounds was refunded.

      How come legalised theft appears to be okay no-one is going down for it, no big headlines and no-one held to account. I would say that compared with what Government, the banks, supermarkets the whole lot of them get away with I cannot begin to get even remotely bothered about what these two people did to the CPS.

      While two wrongs don’t make a right there is nothing that acts as deterrent to stop these guys trying to put one over on us in the future, and they will, while “little people” get the book (and in this case entire bookcase) thrown at them.

      Reply
      1. Andrew

        Cock-up is not fraud, and your money was refunded. Not a crime.

        Imagine it was your business that was cheated by a dishonest book-keeper and the accomplice she brought in. Would you say “Well, it was my fault for having systems that allowed them to get away with and for trusting them?”

      2. duncanheenan

        I agree with Andrew.
        Envy of other people’s wealth (even institutions or the state). is no justification for nicking some of it, sister. Ownership of all these things ultimately resides with people.

  4. Andrew

    Another point about this sad case. Did nobody notice that they were living above their means?

    Perhaps, of course, one of them dropped hints about a big inheritance or lottery win – we live in a society where generally nobody would question that. I remember that almost thirty years ago a senior police officer retired after a successful career and told the pensions branch of his force that he and his wife were about to move to Jersey. He was quickly called upon, in the friendliest possible way, to explain how a police officer could afford to move that millionaires’ playground and took some pleasure in explaining that his wife was born there so they could buy on the local market – and they did not take his word for it, they asked for sight of her passport and the like.

    Something of the sort might have stopped this fraud much earlier but as I say I think people would resist it. Any thoughts, anybody?

    Reply
  5. Sisterhooduk

    Cock up and fraud are not mutually exclusive. Legalised theft has many names and takes different guises and will be referred to anything but what it is really is. Theft.

    Reply
  6. Andrew

    Sister, you are floundering. Fraudsters don’t write to “victims” who do not know they have lost out – like you – to say “we fouled up, sorry, here is your money”. Honest cockers-up do. These two are serious fraudsters and long sentences – perhaps not this long – were inevitable.

    Reply
    1. Sisterhooduk

      I’ll doggy paddle for while stop me drowning shall I. Okay we’ve had PPI “misspelling” (theft and fraud), sub prime mortgage fiasco (cynical fraud), HMRC – make the tax rules, administer them and take the money (theft, fraud, incompetence), Tesco Supermarkets and the strawberries on sale (theft and fraud), the latest one with the identify fraud insurance (theft and fraud) banks implicated. Legalised fraudsters and legalised thieves do write to customers but only once they get found out, they never get sent to jail. These two did nothing different to what these big organisations do (which is screw their customer/clients) but they weren’t protected by the veil of incorporation or being a public body.

      Reply
      1. duncanheenan

        What spurious nonsense! You are in effect saying that because some people may get away with malpractice that everyone should do so. Are you also saying that because some people get away with murder, no one should eve be charged with it? Or more relevant to your own approach to life, it is only a short extrapolation of what you say to assert that because some people get away with rape, that rape should not be prosecuted.
        Your anti-Establishment bias is blinding you to law, justice and common sense.

    1. Sisterhooduk

      The law, until fairly recently, was content to allow a man to rape his wife. You stick with the law it is not always right.

      Reply
      1. Andrew

        Indeed, sister, but the CPS and the judge have to abide by the law as it is. I am trying to imagine what sort of law it would be which would not send these two down for what they did.

        Could it just possibly be that you are fed up that this is a case in which it was a woman who took the lead and that that does not conform with your stereotype of woman as victim and man as perp? Bad news, sister: with the obvious exception of primary liablity for rape there is no form of crime which is not equal opps.

  7. Andrew

    And if I may lower the tone: a tale from the JPs’ Bench. I took the chair recently in a case of driving without due care and attention and not in proper control of the vehicle which, as I like to say when I recount this one, could only be a woman driver.

    Easy now, sister, and possibly others, don’t explode. Scroll down.

    She was driving while breast-feeding when she hit the car in front!

    Which just goes to show that limitless folly is not an exclusively male preserve!

    Reply

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