A former left-wing MP was sentenced to four years in prison on Thursday after being found guilty of fraud for submitting fake invoices worth £24,000 to fund his expensive cocaine habit.
Jared O’Mara was found guilty at Leeds Crown Court on six counts of plotting to defraud British taxpayers by claiming expenses for non-existent work to pay off the considerable debt he owed to his drug dealer.
Four claims totaling £19,400 had been made to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), the U.K. body that processes expenses for politicians, for services provided by a “fictitious” organization promoting autism awareness in his constituency. The disgraced politician had used the postcode of a local McDonald’s restaurant as the company’s business address.
He also attempted to claim £4,650 for services provided by his former chief of staff, Gareth Arnold, who eventually tipped off the police about the fake invoices. Arnold was also implicated in the fraudulent activity and found guilty on three counts of fraud. He received a 15-month sentence suspended for two years.
O’Mara was elected as the Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam in the 2017 general election, dethroning former Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg. He was subsequently suspended by the party a little over a year later after the re-emergence of homophobic and racist comments posted online by the MP more than a decade earlier. After continuing in his role as an independent MP for some time after, he eventually resigned from his seat in July 2019.
Text messages were shown to the court detailing how O’Mara was thousands of pounds in debt to a drug dealer due to his cocaine addiction; further evidence was offered showing how the MP had been heavily intoxicated as he undertook his professional duties, including one incident in which O’Mara drank a one-liter bottle of vodka before a local television appearance.
His former chief of staff Gareth Arnold told the court his boss had been using 5 grams of cocaine, smoking 60 cigarettes, and drinking a liter of vodka a day.
Jurors heard how O’Mara would turn up to staff meetings “gurning, grinding his teeth, and talking a million miles an hour.”
After falling into debt, the court heard how O’Mara began submitting invoices for work provided by a company called Confident About Autism South Yorkshire, which supposedly championed the disability that O’Mara himself was diagnosed as having in 2018. The only problem was that the company did not exist.
Suspicion was first aroused when IPSA returned the fraudulent invoices claiming not enough detail had been provided about the nature of the work.
He was eventually arrested on suspicion of fraud in August 2019.
John Woodliff, an assistant to O’Mara, told the court how the MP rarely attended parliament or his constituency office, and would instead spend most of the day in bed. He would frequently visit the politician’s home and clear up empty pizza boxes and help his boss get dressed for the day, putting his socks on and tying his shoelaces.
“To be honest, he was slowly but surely getting worse. There were days when I went down, he was drunk and it used to be 10 in the morning,” Woodliff told the court.
Woodliff was also standing trial on one count of fraud for which he was found not guilty.