A HUDDERSFIELD man was one of seven swindlers who targeted Chelsea soccer boss Jose Mourinho in one of Britain's biggest dole cheque frauds.
The gang had hoped to cash more than £1m worth of benefit cheques using stolen identities.
One of the members was Farooq Mushtaq, 30, of Arnold Avenue, Birkby, who admitted 16 counts of handling stolen cheques.
The London-based gang hijacked the details of the Chelsea manager after his bank card was stolen in the post, Blackfriars Crown Court heard yesterday.
Post office worker Achille Louthe, 40, pocketed cheques worth £60,000 from a London sorting office and handed them to accomplices.
A razor blade was then used to scratch out figures and the names of benefit claimants.
The fraudsters doctored payments to match other victims' stolen identity documents and went on to claim the profits for themselves at post offices in Yorkshire, Wales, Hertfordshire and West Sussex.
Kevin Dent, prosecuting, told the court: “This case concerns the theft and manipulation of Giro cheques owned by the Department of Work and Pensions. Of course this department issues benefit payments through Giro cheques sent in the post.
“These cheques are meant for the unemployed, infirm and those lacking in means and are to be cashed at local post offices.
“In this case at least 500 cheques were stolen in the postal system. The thefts would have had an impact on each of the intended respondents, who were relying on them for their basic needs.
“The department does issue replacements. Nevertheless, there may have been a period of some difficulty and anxiety while the situation was being resolved.
“Each defendant played a role in a sophisticated and large-scale criminal enterprise.’’
Louthe was jailed for 18 months and organiser Kazadi Kayembe, 44, was locked up for 12 months after admitting conspiracy to defraud.
Shaun Pugh, 39, who had previous convictions for dishonesty, was jailed for 12 months after admitting conspiracy to defraud.
Leigh Armour, 51, was given a six-month jail term, suspended for nine months, and ordered to do 75 hours of unpaid community work.
Lauren Erskine, 19, was ordered to do 75 hours community work and Tracey Flanagan, 23, was ordered to do 75 hours and given a two-year supervision order.
Mushtaq was also ordered to perform 75 hours unpaid work.
Louthe, of Lambeth Walk, Lambeth, London, admitted conspiracy to defraud.
Armour, of Gypsy Hill, Kazadi Kayembe, 44, of Herne Hill, both in London; Pugh, of Walthamstow, London; Erskine, of Erith, Kent; and Flanagan, of Harlesden, London, admitted a like charge.
Louthe was working in Walworth sorting office, south-east London, where he handed his co-conspirators piles of cheques.
Mr Dent added: 'Stolen Giro cheques would be manipulated to match identities that had already been stolen or hijacked.
“A large number of different identities were used.
“Amounts on cheques were increased to make the enterprise more profitable. There is a long list of stolen identities and the rich and famous weren’t spared.
“One of those identities stolen was Jose Mourinho, of Chelsea.
“He produced one of the witness statements in this case to support the investigation.'’
Lesley Brookman, fraud investigator for the Department of Work and Pensions, which prosecuted the case, said outside court: “This is possibly the biggest of its kind.
“It is a wide-ranging and well-organised fraud involving more than 1,000 stolen Giro cheques worth a total of at least £1m.’’
Judge Roger Chapple told the gang: “This was a large scale professional and well-planned conspiracy involving something over 500 stolen Giro cheques.
“False identities were arranged and figures altered so that cheques could be cashed using false identities.
“As is so often the way, those at the very top of these conspiracies, those who are responsible for all the control and organisation, are not in the dock.
“That is a source of some regret to me and all others who care for justice.
“However, conspiracies such as these can’t work without the participation of people like you.’’