Matthew Steeples reports on the sentencing of Maria Michaela
Today, Maria Michaela was sentenced to 9 years in jail at Harrow crown court for her role as the lynchpin in a fraud of epic proportions.
Termed as “Britain’s biggest female fraudster” by the Evening Standard, Michaela is someone I came across in Lennox Gardens, London. In the building where I lived, she was often spotted with an associate collecting money from a tenant, Stephen Hunter-Scott, also known as Stephen Short, who was jailed alongside her.
In due course this Knightsbridge apartment was repossessed by an Irish bank but the aforementioned associate returned a year later and forcibly took possession. The apartment concerned was eventually taken back and sold on a short lease for just £200,000 recently.
Meanwhile Michaela disappeared but it was not until she appeared on the BBC’s Crimewatch wanted list that she again came to my attention. On the show, it was reported that this woman, who operated under countless aliases that numbered “Joanne Sarah Pier,” “Anjali Sharma,” “Mia Cul” and “Nadia Ali,” had, with the help of a corrupt chartered surveyor named Mary-Jane Rathie, obtained loans of £10.5 million from HBOS and £2.5 million from the Royal Bank of Scotland in 2007 and 2008.
Michaela, who may well in reality be called Bruna Louise, had posed as a wealthy South African heiress to secure the funds she supposedly required to fund the purchase of properties in Chelsea, Belgravia, Pimlico, Greenwich, Clapham, Stoke Newington and the Docklands. In reality, Rathie, who was bribed with £910,000 in cash, a £49,000 Range Rover Sport and a £143,000 Bentley Continental, vastly overvalued each allowing Michaela to pocket, for example, £6 million for a Cheyne Walk house that was in reality worth just £3.5 million.
Whilst Rathie, a former employee of Ashdown Lyons, was jailed for 6 years in July 2011, the fraudster Michaela managed to evade capture for three years. She was eventually caught this January in Bexleyheath working as a mortgage broker. In various preliminary hearings, her pleas of insanity did not help her cause and nor did her unwillingness to provide evidence of her true identity. This morning, she got just what she deserved.
Of her conviction, Detective Inspector Andy Fife of City of London Police commented:
“Maria Michaela created a web of deception that duped banks into handing over vast sums of money and then perpetuated her crimes by assuming a new alias to try and secure more loans. False identities and a corrupt property surveyor were the tools she used to make millions, turning herself into one of the, if not the, most prolific female fraudster the UK has ever seen.”
The lesson of Michaela and her cohorts, I’d argue, is simple. Greed may well be good in the eyes of Gordon Gekko, but the greedy generally get caught in the end and generally it is down to their own vanity. As she rots in her cell, perhaps she ought to consider this folly.