Sassa staffer behind R1.2m grant fraud gets 15-year jail sentence

Elliot Jingilisa was sentenced to 15 years in prison for fraud
Elliot Jingilisa was sentenced to 15 years in prison for fraud
Image: South African Gov‏ via Twitter

A former  SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) employee devised a lucrative scheme to defraud the agency and made easy cash.

But Elliot Jingilisa, 32, will not enjoy the fruits of his crimes after he was sentenced to 15 years in jail in Cape Town on Tuesday. Part of the sentence was suspended.

Jingilisa, who worked as a cash payments operator, was sentenced in the Bellville specialised commercial crimes court after he entered into a plea and sentencing agreement with the state.

According to the state, Jingilisa committed the crimes over three years during which he “abused his position to facilitate 183 fraudulent social grant applications which resulted in almost R1.2m in unlawful payouts. He received approximately R91,500 gratification from the relevant bogus applicants for his fraudulent 'services' rendered to the prejudice of Sassa.”

Jingilisa was arrested alongside several other people across the country – some of whom were also Sassa employees – following an investigation that showed that the crimes occurred between 2014 and 2016.

He was based at Sassa’s Philippi office and received R500 for each fraudulent card he issued.

A heap of fraudulent identity documents which were used in the scheme were found in the houses of the various suspects. Suspicion was raised when a Sassa office in Klerksdorp received a high volume of old-age grant applications.

“Old-age grants are social grants that Sassa awards to beneficiaries who apply for this and qualify by being at least 60 years old,” the court papers read.

“A large number of applicants were born between 1930 and 1950, but only applied during 2014 for the grant. Large amounts of payments were created during November 2014, December 2014 and January 2015 for the 362 applications identified.

"Only 33 of the identified grant files could be located.”

And the money was also withdrawn in different provinces from the ones where the grant applications were made – including Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the Northern Cape and the Western Cape.

The identity documents that were submitted in support of the grant applications also gave the fraudsters away.

“Some of copies of the identity documents submitted during the enrolment process  had the same identity photos in more than one of the copies of the identity documents with different identity numbers,” court papers read.

“Some of the copies of the identity documents submitted had a photo of a woman or man but according to the identity number, the classification indicated the opposite sex."

Jingilisa said he was recruited over the phone by someone he only knew as “Zulu”. He said he did not know how Zulu got his number, but he obliged.

Zulu phoned Jingilisa sometimes to find out at what site office he was working on that particular day, and indicated that he was going to refer some people who "needed Jingilisa to help them obtain their Sassa cards", according to the prosecution.

“Jingilisa further admits that the approval letters indicated that they were approved for old-age grants but he could see by their faces and age [some of them looked in their thirties] that they did not qualify for old-age grants.

"But despite this he enrolled them and issued them Sassa cards.  Some of the beneficiaries were also at the cash payments services offices before and were already issued with Sassa cards for old-age grants.

"He further admits that there were 165 instances where he enrolled fraudulent beneficiaries with an ID document scanned into the [cash payments services] system that had identical photographs to others.”

The prosecution said Jingilisa’s “actions were perpetuated by greed”, and that “white- collar crime such as corruption by members of the public in cahoots with persons in the position of trust had reached alarming proportions”.

In mitigation of sentence, it was submitted that Jingilisa was serving a five-year sentence for theft, and had three children aged four, two and one by different mothers.

“Jingilisa was heavily indebted and in need of money,” court papers read. “His own stupidity along with his dire financial situation led to the commission of these offences. He is willing to take responsibility for his actions to avoid a long, protracted trial.

"He now understands the seriousness of the matter and wants finality in order for him and his family to move forward with their life,” said the papers.

He was sentenced to 15 years' direct imprisonment, seven of which were suspended for five years on condition that he is not convicted of fraud, theft or corruption in that time.