One of the UK's most "prolific female fraudsters" has been jailed for nine years after conning banks out of £13m.
Maria Michaela, aged 33, was sentenced at Harrow Crown Court on Friday 9 November having admitted to using a false identity to acquire eight fraudulent bank loans.
A City of London Police investigation revealed how Michaela presented herself to lenders as Joanne Pier, the heiress to a South African business fortune whose grandfather had founded the leisure complex Sun City.
Between August 2007 and April 2008 she persuaded HBOS to give her four separate loans worth £10.5m to buy eight properties in the London area. To support Michaela’s application the bank were handed false valuations by a property surveyor, Mary-Jane Rathie, who was later proved to be working with the fraudster.
In July, Robin Johnson, ex-MD of Ashdown Lyons spoke exclusively to Mortgage Solutions after his ex-chartered surveying firm discovered that its employee Mary-Jane Rathie was a fraudster.
Johnson was one of four Ashdown Lyons witnesses to volunteer to appear for the Crown Prosecution Service, where he testified over three days from 7 June over Rathie's fraudulent activity.
In June 2011 Mary-Jane Rathie was sentenced to six years in prison after being convicted of five counts of fraud and one count of money laundering.
While Rathie was working with the fraudster, she used non-existent corporate tenancy agreements as the basis for doubling the market price for five of the properties. In exchange Rathie was handed more than a million pounds in money and gifts, including a Bentley and Range Rover.
Around the same time the Royal Bank of Scotland was approached by a Joanne Pier asking to refinance assets from her family trust and into her own name due to problems with her father. The bank agreed to make a series of loans to her totalling £2.5m. As with HBOS the loans were defaulted and much of the money advanced was lost.
At this point the alias Joanne Pier was changed to Zoe Fletcher, and in late 2008 Michaela approached RBS for a second time through a contact of Rathie in an attempt to fraudulently refinance properties.
At the first meeting she was introduced to an employee she had met when securing the first batch of loans from the bank. He identified her as Joanne Pier and referred it to the bank’s internal investigation who then reported it to City of London Police, but by this point Michaela had already gone to ground.
A long running search for Michaela, which included Crimewatch and national newspaper appeals, ended in January when investigating officers tracked her down to a mortgage brokerage in Blackheath where she had been working under the name of Mia Kul.
She was arrested and a search of her Deptford flat uncovered a number of different disguises. Maria Michaela was sentenced after pleading guilty to two counts of fraud by false representation.
Detective Inspector Andy Fyfe, of the City of London Police said: 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.”
£300bn of liabilities
View from the front row
Transfer from occupational scheme
Appointed by FCA and PSR boards