Agent who committed fraud to keep business afloat must pay thousands of pounds to victims, court rules

An estate agent who “borrowed” hundreds of thousands of pounds from clients and friends to keep his business alive after it “fell off a cliff” during the financial crash, must repay a slice of the money he gained from his victims.

Russell Baker, 60, ran Ashby’s Estate Agents (Devon) in Bovey Tracey.

He was given a 20-month suspended jail sentence in 2016 after pocketing clients’ cash as well as borrowing money from friends and neighbours which he failed to repay.

In January 2013, he borrowed £15,000 from a former client. The money was paid into a business account but he transferred £5,000 into his personal account on the same day.

Over the next 20 months he borrowed sums between £2,000 and £25,000 from friends and neighbours, always promising to pay it back within a specified period of time.

In total, he borrowed £157,250 and repaid less than £9,000.

Among his victims were a couple whom he duped into loaning him £22,500 for a deposit on a house. Eventually £6,000 was repaid.

He returned to Exeter Crown Court on Friday for a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing, according to www.devonlive.com.

Following discussions between prosecution and defence lawyers, it was determined that Baker derived a benefit of £400,000 from his fraud.

Of that he has already paid back £123,000 by selling off land.

The court ruled that he should pay back a further £6,542 from his pension assets and that the money must be paid to the victims.

Steve Gardiner, the investigations manager for Devon and Somerset Trading Standards, said: “It is a good amount of money to go back after a very long and painstaking Proceeds of Crime investigation.

“It does mean some of the money Baker took from his victims will be recovered and there will be a reasonable amount of compensation.

“And if Mr Baker comes into money in the future there is a potential to revisit the assets.”

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