A notorious ex-magazine editor – the daughter of a millionaire property tycoon – whose recently published autobiography details her life as a doyenne of the media and art world created a web of deceit in a £17,000 benefit fraud.
Mother-of-two Farah Damji, 42, claimed her infamous criminal exploits were behind her in book ‘Try Me’ launched less than 24 hours before her appearance in the dock at Blackfriars Crown Court.
Damji, of 12 Cardinal Mansions, Carlisle Place, Westminster, daughter of Asian property magnate Amir Damji, edited lifestyle magazine Another Generation, wrote for the Observer and New Statesman, was a Birmingham Post columnist and previously ran art galleries in Manhattan and East Hampton, New York.
“The prosecution’s case is this defendant orchestrated a planned fraud on landlords and then had the audacity to claim public benefits,” said Judge Aiden Marron QC. “She is a relatively sophisticated dishonest woman.”
The evening before, Damji partied the night away at the Guy Hilton Gallery, Shoreditch, venue of her book launch, before the celebration moved to the Golden Heart pub in trendy Spitalfields.
In a breathtaking display of self-promotion Damji even nominated herself for a New Statesman Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2008 Award - describing herself as an individual who has changed through her own diverse talents and created an enduring beauty “spreading light” as she goes.
The court heard she told landlords she was the £96,000 a year creative director of fashion company Moksa and owned a £3m Chelsea home with a non-existent husband who was a £100,000 per week property developer.
In fact the ‘husband’ was MySpace pal, American Francesco Miccolupo, who Damji had a fling with and used his bank account behind his back, claim the prosecution.
She pleaded guilty to dishonestly making false representations to landlords Alex and Alix Lentjes in relation to 73c Loftus Road, Shepherd’s Bush and to landlord Benjamin Hutton, owner of 2b Kilmaine Road, Hammersmith on or before October 3, last year.
She also admitted three counts of dishonestly making false representations to Hammersmith and Fulham Council in relation to both addresses, forging a Halifax Bank statement she gave letting agents ‘Lets’s Do Business’ and falsely representing Alex Lentjes was the holder of a specific account benefits were deposited in.
Damji will be sentenced following a Newton Hearing which will determine the extent of her dishonesty. Confiscation proceedings will follow.
She desperately tried to suppress reporting of the case, falsely claiming it would be contempt of court and when quizzed outside replied : “I don’t talk to scum.”
Prosecutor Miss Karen Robinson told the court £17,000 in housing and council tax benefit was paid to Damji, who left landlord Mr Lentjes £7,685 out of pocket and with a damaged flat following the defendant’s eviction on October 3, last year.
When Damji rented £350 per week 73c she claimed to be married Farah Miccolupo and was very edgy about providing reference details, explained Miss Robinson, even threatening a libel action against the letting agents she described as “liars”.
Eventually she was given the keys. “The landlord was left with the impression a couple were moving in and were in a position to pay for the flat.”
Rent was paid in a variety of ways and from a variety of sources, including Mr Miccolupo’s account, said Miss Robinson, adding an associate of Damji, Michael Hill, had his signature forged on one document he purported to witness.
Cheques bounced, one came from Moksa and another from an unknown source in relation to 73c which Damji even advertised for £400 per week on website Gumtree, behind her landlord’s back.
A similar fraud was hatched for the flat at 2b, but Damji was arrested by police on October 27, last year before the landlord suffered any loss.
Her lawyer, Nick Wrack, claimed his client was on income support at all times and entitled to housing benefit, but had to invent a new identity to hide her infamous criminal past.
She was hunting suitable accommodation to impress the Family Court she could house her son, Imran,12 and daughter Marina,6. “The intention was to obtain tenancy, not expose landlords to loss,” added the lawyer.
Four years ago she absconded from Surrey’s Downsview Prison – where she was serving a 3 ½ year sentence for a £50,000 credit card fraud – and became Britain’s first on-the-run blogger.
After failing to return to prison when released to attend an Open University tutorial for a sociology degree she kept the world up to date with her exploits on her MySpace page until arrested five days later.
The controversial socialite first came to public attention over her dalliance with travel writer William Dalrymple plus a fling with a Guardian executive and in a revealing Daily Mail interview detailed the ups and downs of the affair.
In October 2002 she stole her nanny Milla Salminen’s credit card and ran up a £3,903 bill with 61 purchases, including a stay at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Birmingham.
In October 2004, while on bail, she did the same with marketing assistant Darshika Mahavir who visited her house for a sales pitch, and her credit card was stolen by Damji to buy clothing worth £1,030 from Harvey Nichols.
The following month she stole a credit card from Rakhee Gokani, who was organising a magazine photo shoot for Another Generation’s front cover and her card was used 34 times for purchases amounting to £2,630.
She audaciously telephoned top-peoples jewellers Boodle and Dunthorne, posing as Daily Mail showbiz correspodent Kiki King’s assistant, and conned them out of two diamond and platinum rings worth £10,550.
Freelance journalist Ambarina Hasan’s credit card was stolen by Damji and used to open a savings account in the reporter’s name and obtain a £18,000 Sainsbury’s loan.
She also stole two credit cards and a driving licence from a friend, Nazia Soonsara, in a bid to steal her identity.
She pleaded guilty to twenty-five theft and deception charges plus two counts of perverting the course of justice when she told a witness not to appear in court, asked a prosecution barrister to drop the case and posed as then Home Secretary David Blunkett’s assistant in a bid to convince the Crown Prosecution Service pursuing the case was not in the public interest.
Her New York art career ended in disgrace with a six-month stint in tough Rikers Island prison for padding a certified cheque with extra zeroes and forging a court document ordering the seizure of her property.
She was accused in New York of an extensive and pathological crime spree, employing several aliases to rip-off artists, associates and was said to terrorize ex-boyfriends and continued her criminal behaviour in posh East Hampton following her release.