A retired lawyer, 76, fiddled thousands of pounds in housing benefits, leaving an Exmouth landlord out of pocket.

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An American pensioner who fiddled housing benefits left an Exmouth landlord out of pocket because of a ‘’sham’ rental agreement.

Edward Heller, 76, now of St Andrews Road, was jailed for six months, suspended for two years at Exeter Crown Court, after making a fraudulent claim for housing benefit, receiving more than £19,000 from East Devon District Council.

He was also given a 12-month supervision order and three-month curfew.

The court heard how retired Florida lawyer Heller, who pleaded guilty to one count of using a false instrument, used his legal training to construct a web of lies.

He duped the council into believing he was renting a flat at The Beacon, Exmouth, from a company called The Russian Cambridge Institute Ltd.

The police later found the company claiming to help Russian farmers fund equipment had been set up by Heller - and he had sub-let the privately-owned flat to himself.

Creating a new identity for himself, Heller, who personally had a poor credit rating, posed as company director Russkiye Podsolnukhi, signing documents in that name.

The district council funded the flat for two-and-half years before Heller’s lies came to light.

Mr David Sapiecha, prosecuting, said it was a ‘sham agreement’ where the council believed the landlord was the Russian Cambridge Institute.

The real landlord was Exmouth builder and businessman Nicholas Eyres. He was left thousands of pounds out of pocket when Heller began keeping the rent paid to the fictitious company by the council.

The court heard how Heller failed to pay rent to Mr Eyres for 18 months, pocketing £7,500 of housing benefits.

Mr Sapiecha said: “The real benefit to him was when he stopped paying the landlord. Housing benefit was still being paid to him. He wasn’t passing it on.”

Greg Richardson, defending, said the Cambridge Russian Institute was a registered company.

He said Heller, a man of no previous convictions, would have had a legal right to housing benefit had he rented the flat in his own name.

The court heard the defendant’s poor credit rating prevented him from doing so.

In passing sentence Judge Phillip Wassall hoped Heller would use the time to ‘reflect on his attitude’

The judge refused to look at documentation created by Heller, saying: “I cannot rely on a word you say. You have put together a web of deception around this company and I am not going to listen to it.

“You have drawn the landlord and the local authority into it and the fact you now present yourself as an innocent victim and your landlord as responsible is breathtakingly arrogant.

“I still do not know if you are delusional and believe it all or whether you are a cold, and calculating fraudster.”

Speaking after court officer in the case Detective Constable Blain Bishop said Heller’s legal knowledge had been his advantage.

“He used his knowledge of the law to exploit and bully East Devon District Council, the landlord, letting agent and all sorts of people,” said DC Bishop.

“In interview he did claim that much of the information was subject to legal privilege. That was fantasy and rubbish.”

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