A woman who has been dubbed one of “the most prolific female fraudsters the UK has ever seen” by police has been jailed for nine years after conning banks out of £13m.
Maria Michaela, 33, who was found by City of London Police working in a mortgage brokerage in Blackheath under the name Mia Kul, was sentenced at Harrow Crown Court on 9 November having admitted to using a false identity to acquire eight fraudulent 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 April 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 was given false valuations by a property surveyor, called Mary-Jayne Rathie. Rathie used non-existent corporate tenancy agreements to double the market price for five of the properties, in exchange for more than £1m in money and gifts, including a Bentley and a Range Rover.
Around the same time, Michaela approached Royal Bank of Scotland, again as Pier, asking to refinance assets from her family trust and into her name, citing problems with her father. The bank agreed to make a series of loans worth £2.5m.
As with HBOS, the loans defaulted and much of the money was lost.
Michaela then changed her name to Zoe Fletcher and approached RBS for a second time through a contact of Rathie in an attempt to fraudulently refinance the properties.
At the first meeting she was introduced to an employee she had met during her first batch of loans, who identified her as Joanne Pier and referred it to the bank’s internal investigation team who reported it to the City of London police. However, by this time Michaela had gone missing.
Michaela was eventually found in January this year when investigating officers tracked her down to a mortgage brokers in Blackheath, working there as Mia Kul. She was then arrested.
Maria Michaela was sentenced after pleading guilty to two counts of fraud by false representation.
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.
Detective Inspector Andy Fyfe says: “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.”