Faith leader Mehboob Akhtar jailed for multimillion-pound fraud
A faith leader who used his role as a "spiritual guide" to cover up a multimillion-pound property fraud and tax-evasion scam has been jailed.
Muslim cleric Mehboob Akhtar, of Stoke-on-Trent, was sentenced along with nine others including his wife and daughter.
They were found guilty of lying to mortgage lenders to amass nearly £1m of property in a bid to "control and dominate" areas of the city.
Akhtar was jailed for 14 years at Birmingham Crown Court.
Following a trial last month, the 60-year-old, of Farman Close in Fenton, was convicted of 11 charges including five of conspiracy to commit fraud and cheating Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) out of £271,000.
The court heard how Akhtar, who was also known as Saint Pirwali Pandariman, masterminded the conspiracy over more than a decade, between 2003 and 2014.
Originally from Pakistan, he was a prominent faith leader in Fenton and helped raise several million pounds in donations to fight poverty through the area's Darbar Unique Centre, the court heard.
But judge Stephen Eyre said he had "let down his followers".
He said: "[You used] the prestige and devotion of others to facilitate this offending.
"Your role as a spiritual guide provided cover and you financed your activities through donations obtained in part because of your spiritual role".
The court heard how Akhtar kept his name off most of the paperwork, using his wife, daughter and niece to apply for mortgages.
When police searched homes and offices connected to the group in September 2012, they uncovered forged documents and emails relating to the conspiracy.
His wife Khadija Akhtar, 54, of Hartwell Lane, Stoke, was convicted of offences including cheating HMRC and conspiracy to obtain a money transfer by deception.
She was jailed for four years and three months.
Akhtar's daughter, Rushbamani Akhtar, 29, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years after being convicted of entering into an arrangement to facilitate the acquisition, retention, use or control of criminal property and conspiracy to commit fraud.
Seven others - including two mortgage brokers - were sentenced after being convicted of charges including conspiracy to defraud and obtaining money transfers by deception:
- Mohammed Hussain, 46, from Castleton Road, Stoke-on-Trent, was jailed for seven years
- Alfan Ali, 39, of Farman Close, received a six-year sentence
- Mortgage broker Mohammed Gaffar, 39, from St George's Road in Preston, Lancashire, was jailed for five years
- Naqiat Akhtar, 44, of Cottage Close, Stoke, was jailed for three-and-a-half years
- Mortgage broker Graham Lockstone, 49, of Rington Lane in Bristol, received a three-and-a-half-year sentence
- Carla Parrish, 52, of Church Road, Stoke, and Abdul Wahab, 53, of Cottage Close, Stoke, were each jailed for one year
After the sentencing, Ch Supt Martin Evans, from Staffordshire Police, said the sentences were the result of a "very long and complex investigation".