The proprietor of a lettings agency who defrauded his customers of more than £80,000 has been sentenced to a 34-month prison sentence following an investigation by Suffolk Trading Standards and the NTS Tri Regional Investigation Team.
Francis Smart of Dowding Avenue in Cambridge operated Smart Residential Letting Agents in Newmarket. He was the subject of multiple complaints from landlords and tenants and came to the attention of Trading Standards when it emerged he had pocketed tenancy deposits instead of placing them into a Deposit Protection Scheme, as required by law.
More than 30 witnesses alleged they had experienced substantial losses after using Smart’s services.
When Suffolk Trading Standards, with the support of the Tri Regional Investigation Team, initiated court proceedings against him, Smart pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud in respect of retaining rent and deposits under Section 1 of the Fraud Act 2006.
During his sentencing at Ipswich Crown Court on 26 August, the Judge commented that Smart had “betrayed those who trusted [him] and caused a lot of distress and upset”.
Suffolk Trading Standards and the NTS Tri Regional Investigations Team commented: “Francis Smart chose to blatantly disregard laws on rental deposits designed to offer protection to tenants in the event of a landlord or letting agency facing financial difficulties.
“In addition to retaining deposits he kept rental income, leading to many of his victims having to find the money to refund their tenants, with total losses estimated to be in the region of around £80,000.
“These were people who, in some cases, had bought an investment property to fund their retirement, meaning that Smart’s actions will have a long-lasting impact on them. We are pleased that the judge has taken this into consideration when reaching their decision and ordered Smart to serve a custodial sentence.”
Trish Burls, Chair of the National Trading Standards Tri Regional Investigation Team, said: “Francis Smart deliberately swindled his victims out of thousands of pounds. Today he has been brought to justice – and I hope this sentence provides some semblance of comfort to those who were targeted.
“I urge anyone agreeing to make payments like this to make sure they do their due diligence – always undertake background research on the person or business you’ll be working with and always ask for references.”
An application was made to have Smart disqualified as a Director of a Company in the future and this matter will be dealt with together with any compensation at a Proceeds of Crime hearing in March 2023.
Smart is already serving prison time for another police matter and will be remanded in custody to serve his latest sentence concurrently.