A soft-touch judge spared a benefits cheat from prison after claiming the £38,000 cost of locking him up for a year would be the same as the amount he had swindled.
Dishonest Karmal Mustafa, 29, claimed £38,856.50 of income support, council tax and housing benefit while working over a seven-year period.
He used the cash to fund two families – one in his native Somalia and the other in Bristol.
Sentencing guidelines state that those who commit fraud of between £20,000 and £100,000 over a “significant period” of time should be jailed for between 15 months and three years.
But Mustafa, who appeared at Bristol Crown Court last week, walked free after a judge decided not to further burden the state with a £39,000 prison bill for him.
Notorious ‘soft touch’ Judge Carol Hagen told the court: “£39,000 is what it costs to keep one man in prison for a year.
“Do I wish to burden the state further with another £38,000 to £40,000, much as I think it is deserved?”
Instead, Judge Hagen handed Mustafa a 24-week suspended sentence, ordered him to carry out 250 hours of unpaid work and paid £250 in costs.
The court was told how Mustafa was living off the money he claimed in benefits while telling investigators he was unfit to work.
But he was actually working and gave different addresses, bank accounts and national insurance numbers to evade detection.
Simon Emslie, prosecuting, said Mustafa, who lives in Easton, Bristol, fraudulently claimed £26,676.20 in income support between 2004 and last year.
Over the same period, Mustafa pocketed £10,297.49 in housing benefit and £2,882.81 in council tax benefit.
He was investigated and told officers he was sending money overseas to help support his family and cancer-suffering father – who had actually been killed in Somalia 14 years ago.
Mustafa admitted that he had worked in Britain since 2004 but did not inform them because he was regularly sending £800 to £1,000 to Somalia.
Mitigating, Paul Cook told the court Mustafa had paid back #200 in income support and £520 in council tax benefit.
Judge Hagen asked Mr Cook: “If he was sending £800 to £1,000 to Somalia, why is he not paying that to the Department for Work and Pensions?”
Mr Cook said Mustafa had only been able to pay the cash overseas because he was living off his fraudulent benefits and sending his earnings out of the UK.
He described Mustafa’s early life in Somalia as “hell” and said he had seen his mother, father, brothers and sisters killed when he was just a teenager.
The court was told how Mustafa married a girl from his village in 2005 and she later gave birth to twins who later died – one just three days before his court hearing last week.
Mustafa now has two children and another on the way with another woman, who came to the UK in 2007 and does not speak English.
Judge Hagen asked: “Why is it that a man facing serious criminal charges embarks on a third child? It seems seriously irresponsible.”
Mr Cook said: “He only intended one child.”
The judge replied: “He’s a grown man. He can take his own preventative measures.”
Judge Hagen has previously been criticised for soft sentencing by horrified victims and campaigners.
In September, she finally jailed career criminal Mikey Rush, 21, after he thieved just four weeks after she handed him a community order for stealing #20,000 worth of jewellery.
Rush, 21, was given a 12-month community order by Judge Hagen despite stealing from 11 shops.
He stole more items – worth £15,000 – just four weeks last and was finally jailed for 18 months at Bristol Crown Court after admitting seven thefts and battering.
In June, Judge Hagen handed underworld figure Gary Chapman, 51, a suspended sentence after the crook assaulted a magistrate and threatened to kill a police officer.
The notorious criminal was given a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years despite his violent actions while in the dock at North Somerset Magistrates in 2010.
And in May, Judge Hagen let Sundee Spalding, 25, walk free from court despite racking up more than 100 offences and breaking her “one last chance”.
The drug addict committed further thefts while on a previous suspended sentence but was given another when she appeared at Bristol Crown Court.