Agent is jailed for 25 months after committing ‘sophisticated’ tenancy deposit fraud

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.

x

Email the story to a friend

10 Comments

  1. DASH94

    It’s about time that dodgy agents were prosecuted for these abuses.   For every one person prosecuted there are untold numbers getting away with it.   TPO are useless – they just expel the individual(s) and the police are prepared to proceed unless an individual brings a case – which costs them money on top of what they’ve already lost.

    Report
  2. flockfollower102

    Hang on what is the real story here for the industry? An agent who was advertising and was actually a member of MyDeposits committed fraud, by the sounds of it well in excess of £70,000. Easily!!!!!!! We ask landlords to trust us and yet the very systems that were brought in to ensure that this sort of thing could not happen have been shown to be not worth the paper they were written on. I bet all of those landlords have a very high opinion of MyDeposits and the industry as a whole! Deposits should be custodial, no if’s, but’s or maybe’s if we do not want other stories like this to happen and tarnish the entire industry.

    Ros, are you aware of other cases of insured deposits going missing and confirmed with court cases? How many of these stories are we going to see until something gets done, or will we all just bury our heads in the sand?

    Other people thoughts would be very interesting.

    Report
  3. GeorgeHammond78

    Not often I agree with anything a Ewemover says but in this instance Flockfollower, you are spot on. Deposits should be custodial and if  we could find a sensible way of the tenant paying it directly to the DPS (or equivalent) without c*ck*ng up the whole process, then even better.

    For the Judge to say it was sophisticated is a joke and shows how behind the judiciary are when it comes to understanding anything remotely digital. Photoshopping a bank statement to falsify the balance is hardly rocket science and shame on MyDeposits whose system allows the agent to self verify their balances. Their process should require 3rd party direct confirmation from the bank.

    No wonder some banks are getting wary of opening general client accounts!

    No wonder, scummers can rob their clients of thousands of pounds with relative impunity!

    We keep waiting for a full Regulation of the Industry but my guess is we’ll be waiting even longer for such to be anywhere near properly enforced.

    Report
    1. CountryLass

      I hadn’t realised that there was still a way of registering the deposit whilst holding on to it! As far as I was aware (my Accounts team handle ours, I just register them and send a cheque form to them to give them the information they need to pay it) once it is registered, you HAVE to send the amount to them! I thought that was the whole point of the Deposit schemes, to stop dodgy Agents doing this!

      Report
      1. DASH94

        TDS doesn’t require that you pass the money over I don’t think.  DPS has to be cash transfer within a number of days of registration.

        Report
        1. CountryLass

          So not all deposits are actually protected then? Tenants and Landlords are assuming that just because a Deposit is registered, the money is safely stored?

           

          D*mn, that’s not good… As I said, I thought that the money not being left in the hands of the Agents, a fraction of whom could steal the money, was the reason all Deposits had to be registered and protected??

          Report
          1. cybelex

            There are currently two types of scheme; custodial and insurance-backed. With custodial the money has to be sent to the deposit protection scheme operator, with insurance-backed, the money can be kept by the agent in a proper client money account and in effect is ‘insured’ by payment of the registration fee. IMHO all deposits should be custodial.

            Report
            1. CountryLass

              Yes, they should be!

              Report
    2. flockfollower102

      This is not meant as disrespect to anyone on this forum, but the fact that there are agents that did not realise that not all deposit schemes are custodial absolutely demonstrates that the public have no chance of knowing. (To add to the confusion, the DPS now offer an Insurance scheme!) What no one has mentioned is that in my experience of disgruntled landlords, if the insurance is not paid, the deposit is no longer protected and the landlord is left leaving the legal smoking gun.Even though they have an insurance certificate, but they did not realise it can go out of date. Come on Ros, put some investigation into this, perhaps some freedom of information requests from the schemes and lets see how big a problem we have. A really interesting question would be to see how many insurances lapse each year with the schemes without payment confirmation of the deposit. Also, how much have they got sat in limbo waiting for either tenant or landlord to respond. There is a huge story in this I am certain. The people who should be really worried however are the franchise companies who do not do a proper check on their franchisee’s. Some have been caught out once, I bet it will not be the last time if they do not tighten up their systems.

      Report
      1. GeorgeHammond78

        Blimey, Flock Follower, I have to completely agree with you again!

        Report
X

You must be logged in to report this comment!

Leave a reply

Thank you for signing up to our newsletter, we have sent you an email asking you to confirm your subscription. Additionally if you would like to create a free EYE account which allows you to comment on news stories and manage your email subscriptions please enter a password below.