An estate agent has been jailed for 25 months and banned from being a director for five years after stealing deposits as he tried to prop up his failing business.
Andre Montaut, 59, former director of Barrington Property in Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire, was told by the Judge that he had committed a sophisticated fraud.
The Judge also criticised the time it had taken for the case to proceed, with the offence dating back seven years.
Earlier this year, on February 13, Montaut entered a guilty plea to a charge that he committed fraud involving a tenancy agreement deposit. The offence occurred between May 2012 and November 2012.
Yesterday, Montaut was sentenced at Aylesbury Crown Court.
Daniel Fugallo, for the prosecution, told the court: “Mr Montaut held a large number of tenancy deposits.
“These deposits were held under the government approved My Deposits scheme which obliged agents to keep deposits in an account separate to business and personal accounts.
“This was to ensure that [tenants] who entrusted deposits to agents, that their money would remain safe.
“It also ensured risk would be avoided, in that the deposits were always available to be returned as and when they were required.
“Mr Montaut failed to do this. They were held in the Barrington Property business accounts, in effect propping up an ailing business.
“Mr Montaut also presented doctored bank statements showing these deposit accounts to be filled with funds.
“On May 2011 Mr Montaut presented false NatWest bank statements – which showed the balance of the ‘deposit’ accounts to be £128,000. In reality there was only £19,000 in the account.
“He did this again on May 2012, where he presented My Deposits with a NatWest bank statement showing an account with £140,000.
“In reality there was only £145 in the account.”
Mr Fugallo went on: “In 2012, when Mr Montaut ceased operations at Barrington, the person who took over his role found there was no money in either the business or client account.”
He said that Montaut’s successor was unable to pay the deposits back, and 26 landlords had to “fork out” instead. The total amount was £70,000.
Montaut was arrested in June 2013, where under interview he admitted he had not kept the money safe.
Judge T Rochford lamented the way the case had ‘lost its way’ due to ‘slow progress’ and difficulties with court timetables. He also commented that it was a straightforward case.
The Judge told Montaut: “You have previous good character, and have lived a positive life up until the time of these offences.”
He said: “You maintained your conduct was not dishonest. However at the first possible instance under police interview, you admitted your guilt.”
The Judge went on: “This was a sophisticated fraud. You hoodwinked the staff at the My Deposits scheme, and produced and signed false bank statements. You were doing this for personal gain, in that the money was used to prop up the company you were working for.
“You thought nobody would lose out, but as you know, in business things can change quickly, and a lot can go wrong in 18 months.
“I am therefore sentencing you to 25 months in prison, which cannot be suspended. I am further barring you from holding a directorial role in any company for five years.”
Montaut was at one stage a Winkworth franchisee, and also worked for Chancellors.
A proceeds of crime hearing is scheduled for next month.