Agent speaks out after pleading guilty to fraud

The boss of a lettings agency who pleaded guilty to eight charges of fraud at crown court last week has spoken to EYE.

Keith Martin, owner of Seekers UK in the Kent towns of Ashford and Herne Bay, appeared at Canterbury Crown Court.

The eight charges to which he and Seekers UK admitted involved £5,500 worth of tenants’ deposits.

They were all held by the Deposit Protection Service custodial scheme.

Martin admitted making phone calls in 2012 and 2013 posing as tenants, asking to receive the special ID number enabling the return of the money.

The court heard that Martin also placed an advert in a local paper which carried an ARLA logo, to which the firm was not entitled.

Sentencing has been adjourned for a month while probation reports are prepared.

According to a local newspaper report, other charges of fraud and money laundering, which were denied, are likely to be ordered to be left on file.

Martin is still very much running his business, and was at work in the Ashford office at the weekend when EYE spoke to him.

He said that the case had been going on for some time, and there had never been any intention to take the tenancy deposit money.

The intention had merely been to try and get the deposit money back earlier, on behalf of tenants and landlords.

He said: “I have spent three years trying to clear my name.

“What we were doing was circumventing the process.

“The biggest problem we had with the DPS when we signed to it five years ago was the time it was taking to get back deposits, with tenants and landlords shouting for the money.”

The firm had tried to speed things up, he said, by taking matters into its own hands.

He said: “I must emphasise that at the start of the process we signed cheques over to the tenants.

“We have proved where every penny paid by the DPS went, and we clearly demonstrated that it wasn’t to us.”

He said that the money laundering charges related to the tenancy deposit money – but all of it, as the court was told, had found its way to the rightful owners.

As far as using the ARLA logo was concerned, he said that at the time, two of his branch managers were ARLA trained and he only learned later that the ARLA logo can only be used where the director of the firm is also a member.

Martin said that what he did in trying to get back tenants’ deposits was against DPS rules, and that he expects to be fined for it.

“However, ‘fraud’ is a very harsh word’ for what I did,” he said.

“Fortunately, we are a strong enough company. We manage a large portfolio of properties and we will survive.”

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2 Comments

  1. Woodentop

    “What we were doing was circumventing the process.”

     

    So its OK to do your own thing….. err NO. The intentional dishonest behaviour deserves the penalty of a ban for life no matter how he wants to dress it up to stay in business.

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  2. Trevor Mealham

    Seekers in Ashford, Kent don’t have a good name in the way they operate.

    I know of a case where they and another agent double let the same property and let the tenants down on the move in day, when their due dilligence should have stopped the clumsy error. When the director gets things wrong, theres a case that an operation needs totally looking at to see what has been rightly or wrongly taught to staff.

    I can think of a sentence the the word barge pole in it.

     

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