THE managing partner of a Bradford law firm, his brother, and one of the firm's solicitors have been found guilty of conspiring to defraud the Legal Aid Agency out of nearly £600,000.

Mohammed Ayub, 55, the boss of Chambers solicitors and his brother Mohammed Riaz, 48, were today convicted of conspiracy to defraud by a jury after a five-week trial at Sheffield Crown Court

The jury returned half an hour later to find Chambers immigration supervisor Neil Frew, 48, guilty of the same charge by a 10-2 majority   

All three defendants were granted bail by Judge Robert Spragg who will sentence them at a later date.

The jury had been out since last Friday.

Defence counsel will spend the next fortnight drafting submissions which the judge will consider along with the Crown's submissions before sentencing.

Prosecutors said the defendants formed a sham company called Legal Support Services, run by Riaz, to claim inflated expenses or disbursements from the LAA for immigration and asylum contract work awarded to Chambers from September, 2010 to October, 2014.

Prosecutor Simon Kealey said disbursements such as payment for interpreters was not included in the fixed fees of the contract with the LAA and were claimed as out-of-pocket expenses.

Almost £600,000 was paid into LSS accounts over a four-year period but the firm was practically "invisible" and was not registered at Companies House and there were no records of it paying corporation tax, VAT or utility bills.

The postal address for LSS was Fulton Street in Bradford city centre - only 20 yards from Chambers Solicitors in Grattan Road.

Investigators were called in after an audit in February, 2012 revealed suspicious travel expenses for interpreters claimed by LSS.

They found invoices for interpreting work had been deliberately inflated and none of the interpreters booked through Chambers had ever heard of LSS or Riaz.

In one example a £16.20 invoice for an interpreter who never worked for LSS was submitted for reimbursement of £99 from the Legal Aid Agency.

Police were alerted and they found no records for LSS, only a mobile which Riaz used which was paid for out of Chambers' office bank account.

LSS had a "tatty and insecure" door and there was no evidence of it ever offering interpreting services.

Ayub claimed the Legal Aid Agency had been "hounding" him ever since he successfully challenged a £118,000 bill which the LAA claimed he owed.

Cheques totalling £234,894 were paid to LSS in 2012 and 2013 but Ayub said they were for interpreting services.

Frew initially claimed to have no knowledge of LSS when interviewed by police and said he did not know who owned it or that it was located next door.

He said Ayub was the "money man" and handled all the invoices. "He's just very, very controlling," he told the court.

Later he admitted lying to the police because he believed social services might take his children away. He denied doing anything unlawful but admitted knowing Riaz.

Ayub, a former cancer research scientist, claimed everything he did was under the terms of Chambers contract with the LAA and it was permissible to "uplift" interpreters fees to make a profit.

He said all the LSS invoices were prepared by Riaz or Riaz's daughter who worked as an accounts clerk at Chambers.

Riaz told the court he withdrew £537,000 from the bank at the beginning of 2014 to pay the tax bill for three companies he ran. He admitted not having paid tax for ten years.

He said he intended to take the cash to Liechtenstein where he had been told he could settle his tax affairs without being prosecuted by the Inland Revenue.

When he found out it was a scam he put the cash in a safe at the LSS offices.

Riaz likened himself to Walt Disney in setting up the LSS deal with his brother's law firm.

He claimed he had a private arrangement with Chambers to provide interpreters with none of the case workers and few of the interpreters knowing they were actually working for LSS.

He said it fulfilled the "doctrine of undisclosed principals" in law. "I had seen this on a Sky documentary many years ago," he said.

The court heard Disney apparently used agents acting as his "undisclosed principal" to buy land in Florida for Disney World without declaring his identity which would have upped the price of the land.

Riaz claimed he adopted this strategy with LSS, booking interpreters who believed they were working for Chambers to protect his business against rivals setting up a competing interpreter's agency.

"Walt Disney was the principal as I was the principal," he told the court. "Chambers were working on my behalf. They were working as agents for me."

Ayub, of Aireville Drive, Shipley, Riaz, of Southfield Square, Manningham, and Frew, of Hoyle Court Drive, Baildon, had all denied conspiracy to defraud.

After the case, Peter Mann, head of CPS Yorkshire and Humberside’s Complex Casework Unit, said: "This was a calculated, significant and systematic fraud on the Legal Aid Agency, carried out over a number of years.

"It is disgraceful that those who are themselves offering professional legal services should engage in a  criminal conspiracy to cynically defraud a government agency of thousands of pounds. It seems that the motive was simple greed.

"Despite offering various implausible explanations for their actions, it’s clear that today the jury has seen through their lies and have found all three guilty of conspiracy to defraud. This sends out a clear message that no-one is above the law."