A letting agent who pocketed tenants’ deposits to pay for his gambling addiction and lavish lifestyle has been convicted of fraud.
Usman Khalil, of Ilford, Essex, escaped jail.
He was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment suspended for two years by Snaresbrook Crown Court after leaving at least seven victims £20,000 out of pocket.
His Honour Judge West-Knights told Khalil: “The reality was that you were gambling away your clients’ money.
“Vulnerable people, people of low income, desperate for a home, were using you as an agent of last resort.
“They gave you all their money and more.”
The prosecution follows an investigation by Trading Standards officers supported by Action Fraud and Redbridge Council’s legal team.
The probe was launched after a demonstration in 2015 by victims outside Khalil’s now defunct business, Home Hunter Properties.
The investigation found that Khalil accepted holding deposits and advance rent for properties but then made refunds with cheques which bounced – despite having sufficient cash in other accounts.
As part of the scam, Khalil advertised a string of properties that already had people living in them.
One couple, who lost thousands of pounds, were unable to pay for a deposit or rent for alternative accommodation after being conned by Khalil.
Khalil pleaded not guilty at a trial in August which was halted because he was taken ill.
He changed his plea to guilty prior to the scheduled retrial.
He was ordered to pay back £12,350 and disqualified from being a company director for seven years.
He must also seek help for his alcohol and gambling addictions.
Cllr Bob Littlewood, Redbridge cabinet member for crime, safety and community cohesion, said: “This is a major victory in our fight against rogue traders and sends a very clear message that we will not tolerate landlords and lettings agents who think they can rip off our residents and get away with it.
“The case has exposed an appalling abuse of the law and a major con artist who devastated the lives of vulnerable people desperate to find a place to live.
“I want to praise the commitment of our Trading Standards and legal teams who worked extremely hard over three years to bring this case to court and secure an important conviction.
“We are serious and determined about improving standards in the private housing sector and will continue to take tough action wherever we discover illegal activity.”