Fraudsters have been found guilty of targeting six local authorities covid grant schemes totalling £455,000- including £110,000 from Herefordshire Council. 

A further £50,000 had also been defrauded from the Bounce Back Loans scheme.

A collaborative investigation was launched by the National Investigation Service (NATIS), working with the affected local authorities, including Herefordshire Council’s Counter Fraud Service. The case as dubbed ‘Operation Maverick’.

At the tie, the Government had made emergency funds available to companies in need of urgent help via multiple business grant funds, which was then administered by local authorities.

In May 2020 the fraudsters had pretended to be reputable business, the well-known bakery Greggs, in order to make false claims for grants via the relief scheme that was designed to help struggling businesses during the pandemic.

The grads were perpetrated in an organised and calculated manner by individuals impersonating the genuine busies ratepayers. For example, in the fraud against Herefordshire, fraudsters sent correspondence directly to the council with genuine business rate account numbers that were used to support the false applications for grants.

Whilst investigators were unable to identify who had directly submitted the fraudulent applications, the trail of grant money was followed and three individuals were indemnified to have been actively involved in the scam as money mules, allowing their bank accounts to receive and subsequently transfer the fraudulently obtained funds into overseas accounts. 

Investigators acted quickly to freeze bank accounts and to circulate intelligence to other local authorities. This was only the start of what turned out to be a complex three year investigation. 

The crown Prosecution Service (CPS) led on prosecuting the case and the fraudsters later submitted guilty pleas of money Laundering offences to the courts. They received their sentencing at Lewes Crown Court on December 11, 2023. 

Mr David Farrah-Tunnicliffe received a custodial sentence of four years and two months imprisonment. Whilst Mr Clark Slimmon received 12 months imprisonment suspended for 12 months, with 10 rehabilitation days and 150 hours of community service. The third fraudster, Mr David Harper, received 19 weeks of imprisonment suspended for 20 months, with 30 rehabilitation days and 150 hours of community service. 

Confiscation orders are subsequently due to be submitted to the courts in order to start the process of recovering the grant funding.

Cllr Stoddart, cabinet member for finance and corporate services, said: “Unfortunately, the pandemic was a time that saw a great deal of fraudulent activity, targeting the unprecedented levels of financial support that were on offer to struggling citizens and businesses. 

“We are committed to working with our partners, including the National Investigation Service, to recover these ill-gotten funds and prosecute those responsible.

“Herefordshire’s Counter Fraud Service is a nationally recognised and respected service across the public sector. If you are concerned about fraud or corruption relating to Herefordshire Council services, we urge you to get in touch with us.”