A judge has told a wealthy property tycoon that she faces two years in prison unless she pays back £180,000 in benefits she falsely claimed.
Maria Protheroe, 56, received taxpayer-funded income support despite earning £500,000 as a landlord renting out dozens of properties around the UK.
She also lied to obtain mortgages to buy more houses and then claimed to live in two of them to avoid capital gains tax when she sold them.
Between 2003 and 2016, Protheroe dishonestly claimed £178,368 in a string of benefits as well as avoiding £33,000 in tax payments.
Protheroe, of Coventry, admitted two charges of fraud, failing to notify the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) of a change in circumstances and cheating the public revenue.
She was ordered to pay back £178,368 or spend two years in prison when she appeared at Warwick Crown Court on Wednesday.
Judge Anthony Potter told her: “You had a benefit of just over £200,000 through offences which demonstrate enormous arrogance on your part.
“You believed that rules that applied to other people did not apply to you, and you disclosed only what you wanted to on various applications, not what you were required to disclose.
“The four offences reflect sustained dishonesty over a period of at least 10 years.”
The court heard Protheroe began claiming invalidity benefit and then incapacity benefit, and later employment and support allowance, on the basis that she was too ill to work and had no other income.
In 2010 she also claimed carer’s allowance in respect of her sister, giving an address in Winchester and claiming to have no employment and no land or property which was rented out.
In fact she had a portfolio of 10 properties including houses in Coventry, Plymouth, Manchester, Bradford and Scotland.
The court heard her property empire made her “a little over half a million pounds” between 2003 and 2016.
And although there was no charge in relation to it, it was calculated she had avoided £33,000 in income tax.
When her offences came to light and she was arrested in November 2016, police found £34,510 in cash at her home in Cromwell Road, Coventry.
Prosecutor Ben Close told the court: “It still appears to be her case that she was not earning anything at all, and that the properties were not profitable.”
Alex Pritchard-Jones, defending, said Protheroe, who had no previous convictions, had “looked into deceiving HMRC by making positive lies, but in the end decided not to engage at all”.
Protheroe was also ordered to pay £25,000 court costs.