Roma activist jailed in Britain for organising benefit fraud
A woman who campaigned for the Roma community in Britain was jailed for more than two years on Monday for helping immigrants claim millions of pounds in a benefits scam.
Lavinia Olmazu, 31, abused her position as a campaigner for Roma rights by masterminding a plot to supply immigrants with false documentation to obtain social security numbers, Southwark Crown Court in London heard.
She was jailed for two years and three months after helping 172 Romanians illegally claim a total of 2.9 million pounds (4.7 million dollars, 3.4 million euros) in various benefits between 2007 and 2009.
"You identified individuals who wished to be involved in this scheme and in doing so, abused your position with a number of charities," Judge Deborah Taylor told Olmazu as she sentenced her.
"You were a previously well-respected woman working in human rights. You have now lost your reputation by involving yourself in this fraud."
Immigrants from Romania are not entitled to a National Insurance (social security) number unless they can prove they have been employed, so Olmazu and her partner offered false documents to help them obtain a number for a fee.
Olmazu, who has an 11-year-old son, gained a high profile as an advocate for Roma rights, working with a homeless newspaper and setting up a company called Roma Concern. Her partner Alin Enachi, 30, worked as an interpreter.
A total of 368 Romanians gained NI numbers through the pair and their associates -- Enachi and six others were jailed for a total of more than nine years in July -- with 172 of them going on to illegally claim benefits.
Prosecutor Hugh Davies said Olmazu acted for personal gain, insisting: "Her motives were not altruistic, they were commercial."
However, defence lawyer Michael Cogan praised his client for her "courage" in admitting her crime -- in July she pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to supply articles for use in fraud.
"This plea represents for her a spectacular fall from grace which she realises has wrecked a career devoted to caring for others," he said.
Olmazu has already spent 248 days in custody, which will count towards the length of her sentence.
© 2010 AFP