A BOGUS lawyer who fleeced thousands of pounds out of vulnerable immigrants hoping to stay in the UK has been jailed for 15 months.

Teesside Crown Court was told that Cephas Matanhire was a charlatan, while a probation report described him as “manipulative, unscrupulous, dishonest and deceitful” and said he was likely to commit further offences.

The 50-year-old, of The Orchard, Ingleby Barwick, near Stockton, falsely claimed he could help three African women and their families with visa applications and legal “advice”, pocketing a total of £7,728 from them.

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Andrew Bean, prosecuting, said: “The defendant was a charlatan who would offer his services to people who were often in a desperate position regarding immigration and asylum status and would take money from them, but do no work at all.”

One of his victims, Evelyn Mhande, who was having difficulties with a visa application, handed over £5,273 to Matanhire during the course of 2007 and was sent letters by him suggesting he was carrying out the required work.

But nothing was being done and the Home Office later confirmed it had received no letters or documentation regarding her case.

Another woman, Patsekile Ruth Mamba, a nurse working legally in the UK, handed over £1,780 because she was seeking help to allow her two sons to remain in the country, while a third, Onitter Mabuza paid £675 for help with her visa application.

The court heard that Matanhire’s Middlesbrough-based business, Staff Scene Agency and Legal Advisors, was originally a cleaning firm and it was only later that he set himself up as a supposed immigration law “expert”.

Matanhire’s activities were exposed by the BBC’s Inside Out programme, which filmed him speaking to a reporter posing as a Sri Lankan wanting advice on asylum and saying he would charge for any work.

After complaints, police began an investigation in 2007, but Matanhire had already left the country, returning to his native Zimbabwe to care for his sick father.

He was arrested in September last year after flying into London Heathrow.

Matanhire admitted two counts of obtaining property by deception and one of fraud, the offences taking place between December 2006 and May 2007.

His barrister, Andrew Turton, said he had not courted any work and instead had people referred to him through friends and extended family members.

Mr Turton said Matanhire, who had a wife and three children in the UK, was “grasping at straws” in his attempt to earn a living and found himself completely out of his depth when it came to dealing with applications and what was being asked of him.

The defendant, who could not account for all the monies given to him, was said to be extremely sorry and remorseful for his actions.

Jailing him, Judge John Walford said: “These were serious and mean offences. You took money from desperate, vulnerable people on the pretext that you were going to help them, but you didn’t.”

Matanhire will not serve all of his 15-month sentence, since he had already spent 135 days in custody, which would be deducted, the judge said.