A model who claimed she was so poor she lived on food handouts from her local mosque has been jailed after benefits inspectors uncovered her jetset lifestyle from glamorous holiday snaps posted on Facebook.
Carina Reid, 32, was sentenced to three years in prison at Isleworth Crown Court, having pleaded guilty to nine charges of dishonestly claiming housing benefit and council tax benefit.
According to Evening Standard, Reid claimed more than £50,000 in housing and council tax benefits to help fund luxury holidays in Dubai, Hong Kong, Spain, Portugal, France and Switzerland and meals at the West End’s top restaurants. She claimed handouts to pay rent on a flat in an upmarket block in King’s Road, Chelsea, which she actually owned, and was found to hold £180,000 in 19 separate bank accounts.
Reid, who also works as a beautician, told Kensington and Chelsea Council she had no savings, took no holidays and made so little from her Wandsworth beauty business Enhance Medica that she accepted free food and drink from her local mosque.
But on the firm’s website, she claimed a “VIP film star” clientele including Michael Buble and David Schwimmer, and revealed plans to expand into Dubai and Los Angeles.
While claiming benefits between 2009 and 2014 she went on a string of luxury trips which were uncovered by suspicious council fraud inspectors who trawled through her social media profile.
Her Facebook account, under the pseudonym Cara Delmonte, shows her sipping champagne in Harrods and dining at other top establishments including Scotts in Mayfair, the Dorchester and the Berkeley.
Alongside a photo from Laduree tea rooms in Harrods in August, 2014, she wrote: “Drinking champagne. It’s a hard life!”
Pictures from the same year show her taking a helicopter trip at the Cannes film festival, posing in a glamorous evening gown by a luxury cruise liner in Lisbon and relaxing at a rooftop pool.
She went skiing in Davos in February 2014 and posted: “It’s bloody hard. I’m aching but surviving. Might give snowboarding a whirl too.”
In 2013, she spent New Year in Barcelona, while just weeks earlier she posted a picture of herself draped across a Lamborghini in Dubai after attending a yacht party.
In 2010, during a trip to Macau, Hong Kong, she wrote: “Getting over the pool party yesterday so relaxing and chilling with millionnaires drinking champagne and Pimms!”
Investigations by Kensington and Chelsea’s anti-fraud squad found the King’s Road flat she claimed to rent in her benefit claim was purchased with a deposit of £20,000. She was able to acquire a mortgage based on genuine tax returns, which showed Enhance was a thriving business. A further financial investigation revealed she sent £116,000 abroad in 2013-2014 to acquire property in Dubai.
It is one of the most severe sentences ever to have been handed out in London for benefit fraud. The court heard she had been overpaid £51,110 in benefits, none of which has been recovered. Reid told the court that she did not believe she had an extravagant lifestyle and claimed some of the trips abroad were paid for by friends or boyfriends, while others were business training trips. She insisted she had always been truthful in her tax affairs.
Sentencing, Judge Douglas Marks Moore described Reid’s fraud as “sophisticated” and “premeditated” and designed to fund her “lavish lifestyle”.
He said this was “not a passive fraud” and that every time she filled in a claim form there was a “positive demonstration to deceive.”
Her beauty services are based at a separate unconnected beauty business, Regina Doctor H, in upmarket shopping street Old York Road, by Wandsworth Town rail station.
Neighbours today told of their shock that “a glamorous and charming” businesswoman had been exposed as a fraudster. Andreja Oblak, 31, a barista at a coffee shop opposite Enhance’s outlet in Old York Road, said:
“I can’t believe it. She always seemed so polite and sophisticated. I can’t believe she was such a scammer and she was ripping us all off to pay for her lifestyle.”
A neighbour at her block in Kings Road said:
“It’s a shock. We barely saw her because of her jetset lifestyle. She was always partying and just gave the impression of being very successful.”
Councillor Nicholas Paget-Brown, leader of Kensington and Chelsea council said:
“Money that was intended for those in greatest need was instead dishonestly used by Carina Reid to fund a lavish lifestyle at taxpayers’ expense. I am very pleased that following our investigation, which uncovered her real circumstances, that the court has handed down this custodial sentence.”
Source: Evening Standard