Letting agent who swindled more than £200,000 is jailed
A CROOKED letting agent swindled tenants out of more than £200,000 to pay for expensive foreign holidays and prop up his failing business.
Keith Ranson, who used rental deposits to pay for skiing trips, was jailed for two years.
Plymouth Crown Court heard Ranson took cash which should have been protected in a special ring-fenced account and used it to fund the company he founded, R House.
But the 40-year-old also spent thousands on an extravagant lifestyle, including once taking £40,000 from the business to pay off his credit card and fund a holiday to Ireland and Europe.
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Recorder Paul Derbyshire said he had taken the "easy way out" and turned to a life of crime when the recession hit the business.
He added: "You led the life of Riley and now you must pay."
Ranson, formerly of Torpoint but recently living near Skegness in Lincolnshire, had earlier admitted fraud by abuse of position between August 2007 and May 2010. The court heard he had taken £210,177.50.
Recorder Derbyshire said: "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 his own business, R House, in about 2005 in Torpoint, and then opened a branch in Stoke.
Mr Maitland said he took over the company's lettings business, taking deposits from tenants on behalf of landlords. The sureties are supposed to be lodged in a secure account under a national scheme.
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.
He added Ranson began taking money from the protected account to support his business.
Mr Maitland said: "He had an extravagant lifestyle of expensive skiing holidays."
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 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 R House's insurers had already paid out more than £106,000 to tenants who had lost their deposits and other claims were being processed.
Jason Beal, for Ranson, said his client panicked when his main source of income from house sales had slumped.
He said 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 out of Plymouth and had been working as an estate agent but had now quit that job.
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 the 52-year-old, from Antony Road, Torpoint, was ordered to lie on file.
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