A Sleaford wine bar was among properties used in an insurance scam by a North London gang which swindled insurers out of £1million.
On Thursday, the organised group who made fraudulent claims of property damage and loss of earnings at various bars and restaurants across England, were sentenced to a collective 14 years in prison.
Following an investigation by the City of London Police’s Insurance Fraud Enforcement Department (IFED) into what they say is their biggest case of commercial property fraud, all five members of the gang were sentenced at the Inner London Crown Court on Thursday for a mix of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering offences.
Kashif Bhatti, 35, of Wightman Road, Harringay, was sentenced to two years in prison, Ramone Carty, 36, of Janson Close, Neasden, was sentenced to three years in prison, Jurelle Hayles, 30, of Huntingdon Road, Edmonton, was sentenced to 20 months in prison, suspended for two years and ordered to do 300 hours unpaid work, Nyron Hughes, 35, of Cherrydown Avenue, Chingford, was sentenced to four years in prison, and Tarquinn Orgill, 34, of Cherrydown Avenue, Chingford, was sentenced to five years in prison.
The police force says IFED first became aware of the gang’s fraudulent activity after a referral from Zurich. They were suspicious of a claim they received for property damage and business interruption at a wine bar in Sleaford, caused by a burst water pipe.
Fraud investigators at Zurich examined the claim further and established that the wine bar did not actually hold an alcohol licence and was not open for trade prior to the claim.
IFED uncovered several other instances of fraud across the country, targeting a total of 14 different insurers. Fingerprints of several gang members were found at the Sleaford bar, which did has not been named by police.
Between December 2012 and April 2016 the gang leased four bars and one restaurant across England using a shell company, taking out 26 commercial property policies with different insurers, and then made a fraudulent claim on each policy claiming a burst pipe leading to significant damage and loss of earnings. In reality, the venue was never open for trade, with false leases and documents supplied to portray a legitimate business.
The gang made 15 successful claims totalling £944,206 which was then laundered through various bank accounts and withdrawn in cash.
Hughes, Bhatti and Hayles also pleaded guilty to defrauding American Express to the value of £62,497 from fraudulently obtained gold business accounts. IFED’s investigation revealed that Hughes and Orgill, who are cousins, were the main orchestrators behind the fraud.
The gang would choose different parts of the country to make sure the insurers used different loss adjusters to avoid them attending the same premises twice. A member of the gang would pretend to be the plumber called out or the venue manager. The gang members would also change their names by Deed Poll.
Confiscation proceedings will now be started under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
City of London Police’s Detective Constable Daniel Dankoff said: “Fraudsters, such as the members in this group, cause significant financial harm to the insurance industry which then leads to higher premiums for everyone.”