Woman weeps as she is jailed eight years for rental homes fraud

Defence says she was herself a victim of usury

The mastermind behind a fraudulent scheme designed to con victims out of rental money for leases which never materialised, will be spending the next eight years behind bars after admitting to the scam.

Weeping in the dock, 38-year old Alexia Micallef, of Msida, admitted to the charges of fraud and nodded her head in resignation as defence lawyer Noel Bartolo explained how the former cleaner had become entangled in a vicious circle which made her a “victim” twice over.

Finding herself in the grip of loan sharks, the woman sought to settle her spiralling debts and save her own life by devising the scheme, the court was told.

Using house keys entrusted to her for cleaning services, she lured prospective tenants to sign lease agreements and hand over some €800 by way of a deposit. Once the money was pocketed, the woman would inform her victims that the rented property was being repaired.

The scam eventually came to light when a number of frustrated tenants vented their anger on Facebook, calling upon the authorities to take action.

“My client was the victim of usury. She did wrong but these circumstances ought to be considered by the court” the lawyer observed.

Fully agreeing with the defence, the prosecution pointed out that the accused had cooperated with the police, handing over the lease agreements, signed receipts and receipt book employed in the scam.

The woman stood accused of having swindled 26 victims, with the amount running into thousands.

The court, presided over by Magistrate Francesco Depasquale, upon being informed that the usury problem had since been overcome, declared the accused guilty and condemned her to an effective jail term of eight years, bringing into effect an earlier suspended sentence which was due to expire in November.

“You certainly did wrong. There was a message which you ignored,” the magistrate told the woman. “When there is a problem of usury one ought to seek help, because otherwise one ends up in greater trouble. Now you will not see your daughter for the next eight years,” were the magistrate's final words of advice.

Inspector Matthew Vella prosecuted. Lawyer Noel Bartolo was defence counsel.