Ex-Labour MP guilty of £24,000 expenses scam to fund cocaine habit

A former Labour MP has been convicted of fraud for filing £24,000 worth of fake expenses to fund his cocaine habit.

Jared O’Mara, who represented Sheffield Hallam from 2017 to 2019, submitted ‘dishonest’ invoices to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa).

He was accused of trying to claim up to £30,000 of taxpayers’ money to fund an ‘extravagant lifestyle – drink, cigarettes and, above all, cocaine’.

O’Mara, 41, was described as in ‘poor mental health’ at the time and abused the class A drug in ‘prodigious quantities’, Leeds Crown Court heard.

He was found guilty at trial of six counts of fraud and cleared of two.

Co-defendant Gareth Arnold was found guilty of three out of six fraud charges, and a third defendant, John Woodliff, was found not guilty of one fraud offence.

O’Mara, jurors heard, had a ‘dysfunctional’ office and sacked most of his staff overnight in April 2019.

He was ‘living to or beyond his means and in dire need of cash’, financial investigators found.

The court heard how O’Mara made four claims for a total of £19,400 between June and August of that year from a ‘fictitious’ organisation called Confident About Autism South Yorkshire.

The claims were all in different formats and were riddled with inconsistent references. All were either rejected or not processed, with one being rejected by Ipsa three times in June and July.

Prosecutors said the former politician used a postcode for a McDonald’s in the city as Confident About Autism’s business and address.

The ex-lawmaker also submitted a fraudulent contract for employment for Woodliff, his friend, ‘pretending’ he worked as a constituency support officer.

He also submitted two invoices for his ‘chief of staff’, Arnold, who he hired in June 2019 – though prosecutors claimed this work was never carried out.

The court was told Ipsa – a regulator set up after the expenses scandal – did not pay out any of the claims due to a lack of evidence work was done.

Prosecutor James Bourne-Arton said Arnold and Woodliff were ‘old friends of Jared O’Mara and sadly were persuaded to go along with his dishonest claims’.

In the summer of 2019, Arnold contacted police after ‘reaching a point at which he was no longer willing to participate in the fraud’.

In a phone call played to the jury, Arnold said: ‘It’s a bit of a tricky one, but yesterday I spoke to the 999 service and the mental health crisis team about my employer, who I believe is suffering a severe psychotic episode and has delusions of a conspiracy against him.

‘I also believe he has been submitting fake expense claims to the government very recently.’

Arnold – the only one of the three defendants to give evidence – said he ‘absolutely’ did work on both invoices and O’Hara ‘regularly’ called him.

He was brought in to lead O’Hara’s office after he fired his staffers, bringing ‘everything to a standstill’ and becoming an ‘absentee MP’, Arnold recalled.

But Arnold ‘lost his patience’ with O’Hara for drinking a bottle of vodka before a TV appearance and sent a young female staffer messages ‘calling her things like, “my little angel”, and “you’re beautiful”‘.

O’Mara was convicted of fraud after emailing Ipsa in February 2020, claiming the police investigation had been completed and he was entitled to be paid the two invoices for Arnold, which tallied £4,650.

‘O’Mara viewed Ipsa, and the taxpayers’ money that they administered, as a source of income that was his to claim and use as he wished, not least in the enjoyment of his extensive cocaine habit,’ Bourney-Arton added.

O’Mara and Arnold will be sentenced at the same court tomorrow.

O’Mara was elected in June 2017 for Labout, unseating former deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, but he stepped down the following year amid a raft of controversies.

This included a series of misogynistic and homophobic online comments posted by O’Mara more than a decade before he became an MP.

Nick Price, head of Special Crime and Counter Terrorism at the Crown Prosecution Service, said: ‘These claims for taxpayers’ money were blatantly false and O’Mara and Arnold knew that full well.

‘O’Mara invented a fictional autism charity and then proceeded to submit fake invoices, hoping they would slip through as legitimate claims.

‘Arnold assisted O’Mara in the deception, submitting a number of bogus claims, and was happy to go along with the fraud before eventually coming clean to the police.

‘While serving as a Member of Parliament, O’Mara viewed taxpayers’ money as source of income that was his to claim and use as he wished.

‘His actions fell a long way short of the conduct expected of MPs and, quite frankly, taxpayers have the right to expect better.”

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