Former Bovey Tracey estate agent pleads guilty to fraud

Crwon Court, Exeter

Posted on: 25 February 2016

Russell Baker, 57, of Ilsington, near Newton Abbot, pleaded guilty (19 February 2016) at Exeter Crown Court to nine offences of fraud.

The charges were in relation to his former estate agency business, in a case investigated by the Devon and Somerset 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 tenants 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 but they found 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.

Baker’s financial dealings were particularly hard to unravel because he arranged for all of the monies paid to one of his limited companies to go into the bank accounts of another of his limited companies.

As the investigation expanded, and Devon and Cornwall Police also become involved in a joint investigation, a couple were found who had paid a £22500 deposit to Baker in relation to a house purchase.

Baker never passed the deposit to the couple’s solicitor, he simply pocketed the money.

Investigators then uncovered a number of friends and acquaintances of Baker that he had approached, 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.

In total the charges pleaded guilty to amount to £157250 worth of fraud. Sentencing has been deferred to Monday 12th September, to allow Mr Baker time to provide restitution to all of the victims referred to on the indictment. That restitution process will be controlled by a restraint order made under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Devon & Somerset Trading Standards attribute much of the success of their investigation to the willingness of Bakers victims to come forward and provide evidence.

Councillor Roger Croad, Devon County Council’s cabinet member with Cllr Roger Croadresponsibility for Trading Standards said: “Baker was unscrupulous in deceiving his customers and his friends. Initially some of victims didn’t see themselves as the victim of a crime, but in the end it was their willingness to support this investigation that has produced this successful conviction. This has been a complex process, involving hard work from our officers and also invaluable assistance from Devon & Cornwall Police”.

Councillor David Hall, Deputy Leader of Somerset County Council, with Cllr David Hallresponsibility for Trading Standards said: “This is a great use of the Proceeds of Crime Act by the Devon and Somerset Trading Standards Service. They have identified assets belonging to Baker, had those assets restrained by the Crown Court, and now the Court is able to facilitate the return of monies to the victims of his crimes”.

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