Arrogant Maria Protheroe was paid income support payments after claiming she had no income – despite renting out a portfolio of properties the length of the country.
The scheming property owner also lied to obtain mortgages to buy yet more houses – and then claimed to live in two of the properties to avoid Capital Gains Tax when she sold them.
Despite her dishonest dealings making her almost £180,000 over the course of more than ten years, she has been jailed for just two years by a judge at Warwick Crown Court.
But Protheroe was also ordered to pay £178,368 under the Proceeds of Crime Act within three months – or face two years in jail, after which she will still have to stump up the money.
In addition Protheroe (56) of Cromwell Lane, Coventry, who pleaded guilty to failing to notify the DWP of a change in circumstances, cheating the Public Revenue, and two charges of fraud, was ordered to pay a total of £25,000 costs.
Prosecutor Ben Close said that between 2003 and 2016 neither HMRC nor the Department for Work and Pensions had been informed that Protheroe had any savings, earnings or income.
She had begun by claiming invalidity benefit and then incapacity benefit, and later employment and support allowance, on the basis that she was too ill to work and had no other income.
“But during that period she has amassed a property portfolio and rented out those properties. She did not declare she was receiving rental income from the properties.”
In 2010 she also claimed carer’s allowance in respect of her sister, giving an address in Winchester and claiming to have no employment and no land or property which was rented out.
In fact she had a portfolio of some ten properties, both in Coventry and as far afield as Plymouth, Manchester, Bradford and even Scotland, which had given her an income of ‘a little over half a million pounds’ between 2003 and 2016.
And although there was no charge in relation to it, it was calculated she had avoided £33,000 in income tax.
Among the Coventry properties Protheroe owned was a house in Cheveral Avenue and an apartment in Electric Wharf.
When she sold them in 203 and 2005 respectively, she claimed each was her principal private residence – avoiding a total of £11,730 in Capital Gains Tax.
In 2008 Protheroe remortgaged a house in Rectory Road, Plymouth, falsely claiming on her application, in contrast to her benefit claims, that she was a self-employed bookkeeper earning £47,000 a year and owner properties worth more than £700,000.
She made similar false claims when she obtained a joint mortgage on a property in Longbook Lane, Manchester, in 2010 – and both properties have since risen in value.
When her offences came to light and she was arrested in November 2016, police found a staggering £34,510 in cash at her true home in Cromwell Road.
But when she was interviewed on various occasions she answered ‘no comment’ to all questions, said Mr Close, who added: “It still appears to be her case that she was not earning anything at all, and that the properties were not profitable.”
Alex Pritchard-Jones, defending, said Protheroe, who had no previous convictions, had ‘looked into deceiving HMRC by making positive lies, but in the end decided not to engage at all.’
He suggested the ‘meat of the matter’ was the mortgage frauds and, arguing for a suspended sentence, suggested they were ‘not the most sophisticated misrepresentations.’
The total obtained on the two mortgages was £184,000 – but Mr Pritchard-Jones pointed out: “In this case there has been no actual loss to the banks, because the mortgage payments have been maintained.”
But jailing Protheroe, Judge Anthony Potter told her: “You had a benefit of just over £200,000 through offences which demonstrate enormous arrogance on your part.
“You believed that rules that applied to other people did not apply to you, and you disclosed only what you wanted to on various applications, not what you were required to disclose.
“The four offences reflect sustained dishonesty over a period of at least ten years.
“In your dealings with HMRC and the DWP you never disclosed to either agency that you had savings, or that you had amassed a property portfolio which extended the length of the country from Scotland to Plymouth.
“And in relation to the mortgage frauds you had the benefit of those properties rising in price. Although this is not a case where three was actual loss to the two institutions, the risk of loss in the two fraud offences was over £200,000.”