A crooked agent tried to start a new life by working as branch manager for a large chain after he admitted to police that he had committed fraud.
Keith Ranson, who stole £210,177 in tenants’ deposits, has now been jailed for two years.
Ranson, who had been running R House in Plymouth, was interviewed by police in August 2010 when he admitted to fraud between August 2007 and May 2010.
Shortly afterwards he moved to Lincolnshire and became branch manager of WH Brown, part of Sequence which is owned by Connells, in Boston. The branch handles both sales and lettings.
Last September, Ranson, 40, and another director of R House, Melanie Cairns, 52, were sent to crown court to answer fraud charges. In November, at Plymouth Crown Court, Ranson admitted the charge of fraud by abuse of position. On Friday, Ranson was put behind bars.
As branch manager in Lincolnshire, he does not appear to have worried about keeping a low profile, despite the charges hanging over him. Last November 15, for example, after his crown court appearance, he featured in the local Lincolnshire press promoting a holiday prize, and he also used the web to recruit staff.
On Friday, the court heard that Ranson used rental deposits from R House to pay for skiing trips and other holidays and to prop up his failing business.
Recorder Paul Derbyshire said: “You led the life of Riley and now you must pay.
“The recession started to bite and your income declined steeply. That was the situation faced by many thousands of people all over the country. But they did not turn to crime as you did. They battled through it, while you took the easy way out.”
Andrew Maitland, for the Crown Prosecution Service, said Ranson had become an estate agent after leaving the RAF with an injury.
He said he set up R House in about 2005 in Torpoint, Devon, and then opened a branch in Stoke.
Mr Maitland described how R House did well for two years, but in the autumn of 2007 income from the estate agency slumped by between £65,000 and £80,000.
Ranson began taking tenancy deposit money to support the business, but also to fund his “extravagant lifestyle”.
The court heard it was impossible to estimate how much money had been taken to prop up the company and how much Ranson had spent for himself.
Mr Maitland said that on one occasion Ranson used the bank card of co-director Melanie Cairns and withdrew £40,000.
He then paid off £15,000 on his credit card and spent the rest on holidays in Europe.
Mr Maitland said the company went into voluntary liquidation.
The court heard that R House’s insurers have so far paid out more than £106,000 to tenants who had lost their deposits, with other claims still being processed.
Jason Beal, appearing for Ranson, said his client panicked when his main source of income from house sales had slumped. Ranson’s health had suffered and his marriage had ended.
In the two and a half years since he confessed to his crime, Ranson had moved away from Plymouth and had been working as an estate agent but had now quit that job, said Mr Beal.
The court heard that Ranson still faces court action under the Proceeds of Crime Act to seize his assets.
Cairns was also charged with abusing her position to commit fraud between August 2007 and May 2010.
She denied the allegation and the prosecution did not move to trial after she agreed to pay back £10,000 she used for home improvements. The case against Cairns, of Torpoint, Devon, was ordered to lie on file.
It is understood that R House was a NALS member. Both Sequence and NALS have been invited to comment.
Currently, although Ranson could be banned from estate agency by the Office of Fair Trading, he could not be banned from working in the lettings industry again. However, see next story.