Pastor from Wellingborough sentenced for benefit fraud

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A Wellingborough pastor has been sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for two years, for fraudulently claiming nearly £18,000 in benefits when both he and his wife were working.

Easton Russell, 52, of Roberts Street, Wellingborough, was working as a pastor for the Miracle Church of God in Christ when he was claiming jobseekers allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit. His wife was working as a supply teacher.

Wellingborough Council launched a joint investigation with the Department for Work and Pensions after information was received that both Russell and his wife were in paid employment. Once the information was confirmed, Russell was interviewed under caution at the council offices and later charged to appear at Wellingborough Magistrates Court.

He appeared in court last week and pleaded guilty to eight offences over the two-year period of September 2009 to November 2011 - three of dishonestly furnishing false information to Wellingborough Council with regard to his employment as a pastor, and one of failing to notify a change of circumstances to the council regarding the work of his wife as a supply teacher.

He also pleaded guilty to the same four offences in relation to the Department for Work and Pensions.

Russell was sentenced to a total of 26 weeks custody, suspended for two years, and given a two-year supervision order with a requirement to complete 240 hours of unpaid work.

He was also ordered to pay £300 costs to the council and a victim surcharge of £80, by January 6, 2014.

Wellingborough Council’s deputy leader Cllr Barry Graves said: “We are continuing to crack down on benefit fraudsters, and this is another good result that we hope will act as a warning to anyone thinking of cheating the system.

“We have an excellent track record of uncovering benefit fraud and we will find and prosecute those who commit it.”

Russell had fraudulently claimed £11,231.39 jobseekers allowance, £5,544.21 housing benefit and £1,213.17 council tax benefit, making a total overpayment of £17,988.77.

Wellingborough Council will pursue full recovery of the overpayment.

In the same week, a Wellingborough woman was sentenced at Northampton Magistrates Court for wrongly claiming more than £6,000 in benefits.

Kim Frederick-Higham, 35, of Mannock Road, claimed income support and council tax benefit as a single parent, despite the fact her fully-employed partner had moved back into the family home.

She was prosecuted by Wellingborough Council and the Department for Work and Pensions and given an 18 month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £100 costs with a £15 victim surcharge.