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Consumer news, Trading Standards prosecutions

‘Crime doesn’t pay’ – fraudster estate agent to pay victims more than £130,000

Posted on: 12 February 2018

A former Bovey Tracey estate agent will pay back over £130,000 to the victims he defrauded.

Today at Exeter Crown Court (9 February) an order under the Proceeds of Crime Act was made against Russell Baker, 59, of Liverton.

Previously in February 2016 he had pleaded guilty to nine offences of fraud relating to his former business.

The case was investigated by Devon, Somerset and Torbay Trading Standards Service.

Investigators found that Baker had bought a well-known estate agents business called Ashby’s.

A significant part of his business was the letting out of properties on behalf of landlords, and the investigation originally related to tenant’s deposits, and whether they had been paid into a government-approved scheme.

However, a number of landlords also allowed Baker to manage their properties for them.

They discovered that they weren’t receiving rental payments from Baker, even though the properties were occupied and the tenants were paying their rent.

One landlord tried to sue Baker in the civil court but Baker managed to convince the court that the debt was a company debt rather than a personal one and so the court action failed.

One couple paid a £22,500 deposit to Baker in relation to a house purchase. Baker never passed the deposit to the couple’s solicitor, he simply pocketed the money.

Baker had also approached a number of friends and acquaintances, asking them to help his business through a rough patch by lending him money.

The lender was also encouraged with the offer of a very good rate of return and a written ‘contract’.

In reality, however, Baker’s business was already massively in debt, not paying any tax, and destined to collapse.

At an earlier hearing, Baker was sentenced to 20 months in prison, suspended for two years, and 160 hours of community service. A Proceeds of Crime Investigation was ordered.

Today he was found to have benefited by £400,000 from his criminal activity. Thanks to its financial investigation, Trading Standards has already been able to repay £123,900 to his victims and now Baker will have to release pension funds which should lead to a further £6500 compensation being paid by the courts. Baker will remain liable for the remainder.

Trading Standards attribute much of the success of their investigation to the willingness of Baker’s victims to come forward and provide evidence.

Stephen Gardiner, Devon, Somerset and Torbay Trading Standards Service’s Interventions Manager, said:

“This has been a painstaking investigation, both in relation to the original offending and the financial aspects. Pursuing the finances has meant that over £130,000 will be paid in compensation, which is an excellent use of the Proceeds of Crime Act. Fraudsters need to know that crime won’t pay.”