Roma gipsies campaigner jailed
A mother-of-one who exploited members of the Roma community she claimed to be helping has been jailed for her part in a multimillion-pound benefits scam.
Lavinia Olmazu, 31, abused her position as a campaigner for Roma gipsies' rights by masterminding a plot to supply immigrants with false documentation in order to obtain National Insurance numbers, a court was told.
She was jailed for two years and three months after helping 172 Romanians illegally claim a total of £2.9 million in child tax credits, working tax credits and child benefits between 2007 and 2009.
Sentencing her at Southwark Crown Court, Judge Deborah Taylor said Olmazu's role in the fraud was "made easier" through her work as an outreach worker for Haringey and Waltham Forest councils in north London, which gave her access to members of the Roma community.
Immigrants from Romania are not entitled to a National Insurance number unless they can prove to authorities that they have been employed. The court was told Olmazu and her partner Alin Enachi, 30, would offer false documents and references to the migrants for a fee.
Enachi worked as an interpreter, while Olmazu, who has an 11-year-old son, gained a high profile as an advocate for Roma rights, attending public protests on behalf of the community. Olmazu was involved with The Big Issue, working as a self-employed consultant who helped Roma people wishing to sell the magazine. She also set up a company called Roma Concern, using it as a front for the fraud she committed with Enachi.
The pair created false companies to issue bogus references and invoices for immigrants, while other members of the gang referred families to them. A total of 368 Romanians gained National Insurance numbers through the gang, with 172 of them going on to illegally claim benefits.
Hugh Davies, prosecuting, said Olmazu and her partner "orchestrated" the fraud, which also entitled the immigrants to NHS treatment. Mr Davies said: "Given her high-profile background, she was shown to be intimately connected to the false documentation used, and to have abused her position helping those in the Roma community to her personal and financial advantage. Her motives were not altruistic, they were commercial."
Detective Constable Melanie Groves, who led the investigation into Olmazu and her seven fellow gang members, said after the sentencing: "Olmazu is an educated Roma lady who abused her position of trust and purported to be trying to help Roma people integrate into this country, yet actually assisted them to obtain benefits through false pretences. This undermines the work of those who are genuinely concerned with the difficult issues Roma people face throughout Europe."
Olmazu has already spent 248 days in custody, which will count towards the length of her sentence. Her associates, including a group of four brothers, were sentenced to a total of more than nine years in July. A confiscation hearing will take place at a later date. Scotland Yard said it will seek the deportation of the gang members sentenced to more than 12 months in prison.