An agent has pleaded guilty of nine offences of fraud involving deposits and rental money.
Russell Baker, who had owned Ashby’s in Newton Abbott, was prosecuted by Devon and Somerset Trading Standards after a joint investigation with police.
One landlord had sought a private prosecution but Baker managed to convince a civil court that the debt was a company debt rather than a personal one.
The police became involved when Baker was alleged to have pocketed a £22,500 deposit on a house purchase.
Exeter Crown Court heard that Baker had not passed the deposit to the couple’s solicitor, but simply pocketed the money.
He had also begged a number of friends and acquaintances for money, to help his business through a rough patch. He offered a good rate of return, but in reality the business was also massively in debt and not paying any tax.
Baker has now pleaded guilty to £157,250 worth of fraud. Sentencing has been deferred until September to allow him time to reimburse the victims under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Councillor Roger Croad, Devon County Council’s cabinet member with responsibility for Trading Standards said: “Baker was unscrupulous in deceiving his customers and his friends.
“Initially some of victims didn’t see themselves as the victim of a crime, but in the end it was their willingness to support this investigation that has produced this successful conviction.
“This has been a complex process, involving hard work from our officers and also invaluable assistance from Devon and Cornwall Police.”
Councillor David Hall, deputy leader of Somerset County Council, with responsibility for Trading Standards said: “This is a great use of the Proceeds of Crime Act by the Devon and Somerset Trading Standards Service.
“They have identified assets belonging to Baker, had those assets restrained by the Crown Court, and now the Court is able to facilitate the return of monies to the victims of his crimes.”