Two brave landlords and their long quest for justice in case of fraudulent agent

A pair of landlords were instrumental in the long battle to bring fraudster agent Andre Montaut to justice.

Montaut, who ran Barrington Property, was this week jailed for 25 months and banned from being a director for five years at Aylesbury Crown Court. Some 26 landlords had to reimburse a total of £70,000 worth of deposits to their tenants after the money vanished.

The one who fought longest and arguably hardest sadly died in February.

Geoff Whaley, who first contacted EYE back in 2013 about the case, died at Dignitas in Switzerland after suffering from motor neurone disease.

He and his wife Ann had a property that used to belong to her mother, and which they rented out through Montaut’s agency after she died.

They only knew that the deposit had vanished when the tenant was leaving and asked for the money back.

Geoff Whaley alerted the police, organised and attended victims’ meetings, and kept up the pressure for justice. He also successfully pressurised tenancy deposit scheme My Deposits into tightening up its systems, according to his widow.

He fought to the very end, his widow said yesterday, because he was incensed that Montaut had continued to work in the property industry after the fraud for which he has now been sentenced.

Mrs Whaley said: “In January this year, the month before he died, we heard that Montaut was due to appear at magistrates court.

“Ill as he was, and totally paralysed from the neck down, Geoff was determined to attend. We went there – him in his electric wheelchair – and waited and waited.

“Then we were told that the case had been escalated to the crown court.

“So Geoff was at least able to die knowing that finally, justice might be in sight.”

How would her husband now feel?

“He had a word, ‘geronimo’, whenever he sensed victory. I think he’d be sitting in heaven with a glass of red wine, saying ‘geronimo’.”

Another victim, Mary Austen (not the real name) of Gerrards Cross, also fought long and hard for almost seven years for justice.

Austen has also kept a timeline which vividly portrays the length of time, the delays, paperwork and people involved since January 2013 – Montaut had actually committed the crime between May and November 2012, according to his guilty plea.

No fewer than three different police officers were put in charge of the case between January 2013 and this month, working under four different senior officers, while there were three successive Thames Valley chief constables, all of whom knew of the case.

Correspondence included letters to and from MPs and the chief constables; there were three different victims’ meetings; and constant phone calls to police asking about progress.

The case was first submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service in October 2014 but, says Austen, “fizzled out”.

It was referred a second time to the CPS in February 2016, and submitted a third time in September that year.

Charging decisions were delayed repeatedly throughout 2017, and finally Montaut was charged with two counts of fraud in January 2018.

Court proceedings were delayed and rescheduled repeatedly, stretching the whole court process out for 536 days until sentencing on Tuesday this week.

It is not quite over: a proceeds of crime hearing originally scheduled for September 9 is now due on November 25.

If Montaut is ordered to pay his victims, they are unlikely to receive any money until next February 17.

If that final date is correct, the whole matter, from the theft of deposits to the end, will have taken an incredible 3,180 days.

Questions raised by the case

Andre Montaut committed his fraud while running Barrington Property, where he used the insurance scheme at My Deposits for tenancy deposit protection.

The case does raise questions as to the ability of agents who use these non-custodial schemes to hang on to the actual money, while insuring it – an insurance that meant nothing for the 26 landlords who had to repay their tenants.

In Scotland, for example, there are no insurance-backed tenancy deposit schemes.

In England, there has been a tightening up this year, with letting agents now legally required to keep client and business money in separate accounts and to have Client Money Protection.

Last night My Deposits welcomed the sentencing.

Eddie Hooker said: “Being part of a wider insurance related business, My Deposits has always taken risk seriously especially in respect of fraud and theft.

“It was our rigorous vetting of this particular agent member by our risk team, especially their bank statements and financial management reports, that alerted us to the original issue.  Our evidence was crucial in the conviction of this particular individual.

“We continue to check all our agent members and to help them understand the laws of deposit protection and operating a compliant agency.”

There are also questions raised about Montaut’s career, as he was also associated with two highly reputable brands.

At the end of 2011, Montaut joined Winkworth, with Barrington Property being publicly greeted by Winkworth as a good example “of the sort of franchise we look for”.

It is not known how long the arrangement lasted for and Winkworth yesterday declined to comment.

After his fraud at Barrington Property, Montaut went to work for Chancellors.

Chancellors yesterday told us: “We have been made aware that Andre Montaut, who is an ex-employee of ours, has been sentenced to prison after pleaded guilty to a fraudulent offence in the legal case that was brought against him.

“These matters relate to events occurring prior to his employment with us and there has been no suggestion of improper behaviour by him as part of his employment with us.

“We have not been party to the investigations the authorities have made into these matters and have not been involved in the court proceedings that have concluded with his sentencing.

“We therefore do not have knowledge of events beyond what is in the public domain and we cannot comment further on this matter.”

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7 Comments

  1. DASH94

    Absolutely disgraceful that prosecution in these cases relies on the perseverance of people who are already victims.   It’s clear cut theft and fraud and the police can’t/won’t follow it up without such individuals.

     

     

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  2. flockfollower102

    A disgrace! No comment from ARLA or any of the other industry organisations? My Deposits trying to take credit for the investigation when they and their systems were a large part of the problem in the first place. It appears that all these years after deposit protection was brought in we still have stories like this. Just the tip of the iceberg.

    Please ask the schemes some tough questions, how often do they Pro actively audit, do they have a red flag system when insurances are not renewed, how many agents have the schemes reported for mal practice?

    A big story here, with huge repurcusions for people who say they represent our industry!

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  3. GeorgeHammond78

    So, we get to the nub of this story, justice was eventually served solely because two determined, persistent, individuals were not prepared to just roll over, as, sadly so many landlords who find themselves in a similar situation just do. The number of times, I have had landlords come to me on the back of someone stealing their money who are unwilling to go the police or take a civil action against the individual is, quite frankly, staggering.

    We all know whether or not the Government bring in new rules, neither the more than adequate existing laws, or anything new, is ever going to get policed or enforced. I constantly tell landlords that cheap pricing over security is way more expensive in the long run but getting people to understand this is sometimes impossible. Had one a couple of years ago who had had £6k stolen by a crook who had done a runner, who said our commissions were very high compared to the rogue agents’. They just couldn’t grasp that said rogue’s fee was 100% of the rent!

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    1. DASH94

      I know of an agent that has done this 3 times!  Still never had one consequence except that social media now means that they’re unlikely to do it again as no-one would employ them.   TPO simply cancelled their membership after the event, the landlords had to cover the deposits that had been lost and still face prosecution themselves because even when they covered the deposits – the tenants were going after them for them not being lodged in the first place.  No chance of any deductions for  work needed

      The properties were in shocking condition because successive tenancies had been ended and deposits returned from new tenant’s money’s so no jobs were being done between tenancies so the costs of all that had to be picked up too.

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  4. Woodentop

    Non-custodial deposits should be banned. That will upset the few that rely on the income for running their own business but it is isn’t your money to play with in the start and if you do have to rely on it … you are not viable and one day you will have to return it … a ticking time bomb if you have spent it.

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    1. flockfollower102

      Absolutely, the onoly reason we have insurance backed schemes was because someone lobbied Government saying that they did not want to lose interest on the £Million plus in deposits they were sitting on. Can someone please tell me how that has helped our industry?

      Are we going to hear from any of the organisations who have a responsibility to police this? ARLA seem very quiet, NALS anyone? COME ON, someone either speak out in defence of these schemes or lets actually put the industry on a secure footing going forward. If full licensing is brought in, we will have many more hoops to jump through and there will be the usual people on here saying how terrible it is that we can not be trusted as an industry. Well evidence would suggest we can’t.

      Can we have an interview with representatives of all of the insured schemes? How about ARLA showing some leadership or are all these and other organisations just scared of upsetting their subscription paying members? I know what I think the answer to that is, lets see!!!!!

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  5. PossessionFriendUK39

    Whitworths and Chancellors are GUILTY by Neglect.

    Their responses above make that as plain as Day.

    The property Redress Scheme is as much use as  Chocolate Tea-Pot !

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