Elected one of the famous 100 faces of Henley Josette Ofiera, 51, has been convicted of benefit fraud for having received more than £16,000 in housing benefit she wasn’t entitled to over a three-year period.
She was given an eight-week suspended prison sentence and a 7pm curfew when she appeared at Oxford Magistrates’ Court on Monday. She had earlier pleaded guilty to two charges of benefit fraud.
She was also ordered to pay back all the money by 2017 as well as imposed a cost of £439 the shop assistant who was chosen as face of heneley for having put in 30 years of service as shop assistant was told it was a serious matter involving a substantial amount of taxpayers money.
The court heard how Ofiera, of Adwell Square, had dishonestly failed to notify South Oxfordshire District Council that she had received an inheritance in excess of £61,000.
She was also found to have deliberately made a false statement that said she had no further bank or building society accounts beyond previously declared.
Breaking down in tears Ofiera said she regretted her error of judgment and that it was her fault and now she was paying for it.
She apologised to the court and said she was going to return all back.
Ofiera and her daughter had lived with her parents in West Street but had to move out when her father, a restaurant manager, died in November 2005, just 18 months after her mother had passed away.
She began claiming housing benefit but did not notify the council when the three-bedroom house was sold in June 2008 and she received the inheritance, which was split between herself and three siblings.
Once the irregularities with her benefit claims were found by officials at the district council checking data such as bank accounts, National Insurance and tax payments her payments had stopped in 2011.
It was found she had received about £19,000 in housing benefit that she wasn’t entitled to but this amount was reduced to £16,827 after she handed back five uncashed cheques.
Ofiera, who was interviewed under caution, claimed she had made an innocent mistake.
She said when she had got the inheritance through her father’s will she should have let the housing officer know about it which she didn’t.
Though she said it was not deliberate the council felt she should be prosecuted because the amount of money involved and the length of deception.
Ofiera’s prison sentence was suspended by six months; providing she does not commit any further offences and that she complies with a 12-week curfew order that applies from 7pm to 7am, Sunday to Thursday.
Last year, Ofiera was included in the 100 Faces of Henley charity project, a portrait gallery of well-known faces in the town. MsOfiera was chosen because she had worked as a sales assistant at WH Smith in Bell Street for more than 30 years.