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Following a complex four-year investigation carried out by Barnet Council’s Trading Standards team, Martin Marcus, 52, of Bushey, Hertfordshire pleaded guilty to fraudulent pocketing over £220,000 seven days into his trial. He was sentenced on five offences at Harrow Crown Court on Monday.
The court heard how he fronted a string of letting agencies and used numerous aliases between 2009 and 2015 to pocket £221,000 from more than 60 tenants and landlords.
In what Judge Freya Newbery described as “an elaborate con trick”, Marcus repeatedly offered tenants properties he had no right to let out, took deposits from multiple tenants for the same property, moved in different tenants than those promised, and used a variety of methods and excuses to hold on to thousands in deposits and rents.
Prior to sentencing, the court heard impact statements from victims describing how Marcus’s scam had left some of them tens of thousands of pounds out of pocket, some without a home and others unable to care for ill relatives.
Good letting agents despise characters like Martin Marcus because it is people like him that tarnish reputations of a generally very fair industry. Consumer advice from Property118 is only to deal with agents who are members of ARLA, NALS, RICS, UKALA or The Law Society. before handing money over to an agent, check with the professional body they claim to be a member of to confirm they are indeed a member and that their Client Money Protection and Professional Indemnity insurance is up to date. Always try to get this in writing.
Gordon Menzies, prosecuting told the court: “This is a case which could be described as fraud, dishonesty or stealing. It was not clever but it was fraud and it worked.”
Marcus used a number of company names including JMG Residential Ltd, Interlocate, Corporate Relocation and Churchill Residential, and used aliases including the names Jeffrey Lewis, Martin Champ and Robert Martin when carrying out the deception.
Requests from landlords and tenants for their money to be returned were met with excuses and in many cases cheques which bounced.
Mr Menzies told the court how landlords and tenants had been reassured that their money was held in a “ring fenced client account”.
But Trading Standards investigators found transactions from the account including payments to Virgin Active, Easyjet, payments in Spain, payments to mobile phone companies and payments to Marcus’s son.
Mr Menzies told the jury: “The client account was many things but it wasn’t a client account.”
He also told the court that analysis of bank accounts revealed that Marcus was in financial trouble with bank records showing that he had taken out multiple payday loans.
One landlord looking to rent out her property in Hertfordshire was contacted by Marcus who said he had a prospective tenant who was a HBOS employee, and who would be moving from New York to the UK for two years. The tenant did not exist. When she visited the property she found Marcus had moved in a family of eight who had been living in London for 12 years, and who had paid £3,200 to a man calling himself Martin Champ. Marcus had moved in tenants with no proper identification checks. They never paid rent and before they were eventually evicted they caused thousands of pounds of damage to furniture, brand new kitchen fixtures and fittings and to appliances. The rent from the property had been intended to help pay for the care of the landlords mother. At the same time a student contacted Marcus about renting the same property with several friends. She handed over more than £2,000 to secure the house, but after paying the money was unable to contact Marcus and the money was never returned.
Judge Newbery said that the fraud reached ‘almost farcical proportions’ with properties being let out over and over again.
In another case Marcus promised a landlord that he had found tenants for his property. The tenants, he was told, were a family who owned a successful winery in New Jersey, USA. He was even shown a website for the company. However, the Trading Standards investigation revealed that the creation of the website could be traced back to Marcus’ lettings agency.
In some cases, other letting agents had complained to Marcus about him lifting photos of properties they were advertising, and then marketing the properties himself.
The court heard that on one occasion Marcus even attempted to let out the house that he himself was in the process of being evicted from for the non-payment of rent.
Sentencing Marcus, Judge Newbery said: “You used each of your lettings agencies as a vehicle to defraud potential tenants, tenants and landlords. It’s been said that because of your financial difficulties you were robbing Peter to pay Paul.
“Typically you would take money from landlords and tenants and not pay either back. Your tactic was to close down when it became too difficult and reopen under a different name. Even after you were interviewed in 2015 you ploughed on using the same modus operandi.
“When taken all together this was quite an elaborate con trick which you used over and over.
“There was a significant human cost to what you did with a considerable amount of stress involved for people trying to get their money back and this is something which has to be taken into account when sentencing you.”
Four other defendants, Nadim Khan, Michael Page, James Day and Stacey Heffernan, were found not guilty of the same charges following a six-week trial. Martin Marcus’s wife Corinne Marcus was acquitted of a charge of money laundering.
Cllr Richard Cornelius, Leader of Barnet Council, said: “This trial follows a long and very complex investigation led by the council’s Trading Standards team into a fraud which left a great many people out of pocket.”
The case illustrates the ease with which a conman was able to set up letting agency after letting agency. Currently, he would be able to do so again, although recently enacted legislation will make it a legal requirement for letting agents to keep client money in a separate account, and will also set up a database of rogue agents and landlords along with banning powers. The database will be available to central and local government, but not to prospective tenants and landlords, and not to agents who might be recruiting staff.
If you have been affected by a similar crime please report it to http://privateprosecutions.org/
In many cases of this nature the crimes go unpunished due to lack of Police and CPS resources. Where 15 or more members of Property118 Action Group are affected by a similar case we foot the bill of the criminal investigation and the initial legal costs up the the point The Crown takes over the funding of the case, meaning the only cost to victims is their £600 lifetime membership fee to Property118 Action Group.
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