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UK Seekers boss Keith Martin ripped off hard-up families by stealing their deposits

A £100,000-a-year company director has escaped going to prison despite ripping off hard-up families desperately needing homes.

Charming Keith Martin, 51, drove around east Kent in a flash Maserati with personalised number plates.

But now a judge has heard how the boss of Seekers UK cheated a system designed to protect tenants’ deposits.

Keith Martin earns £100,000 a year
Keith Martin earns £100,000 a year

One victim said in a statement read to the court: “He used his charm to cover up his lack of morals.”

Prosecutor James Dennison told Canterbury Crown Court that the seven victims had been vulnerable people needing low-cost accommodation.

But behind their backs Martin, of St Peters Street, Canterbury, illegally conned Deposit Protection Scheme staff into releasing cash.

Yet, despite admitting the fraud he is still able to run the lettings agency from his office in New Street, Ashford.

Some of the victims – who included a pregnant woman and a mum with a new child – had to wait for between two to three years before being repaid the money.

Another victim, twice-British Karate champion Peter Lee, a 19-year-old hotel porter, revealed how he had worked long hours and borrowed money to raise the deposit.

After failing to get his money back he became ill and suffered from stress, telling council officials he was “disgusted” with Martin.

Mr Dennison told how the nine-month fraud took place in 2012 and 2013 when people, some on benefits, raised the deposits to rent properties.

The prosecutor told how many of them had turned to Seekers UK – which had offices in Ashford and Herne Bay – because other agents would not accept people on benefits.

The Seekers building in New Street, Ashford
The Seekers building in New Street, Ashford

They should have been protected by the scheme set up under the 2004 Housing Act – but the devious director tricked DPS staff into releasing the cash by posing as the tenants.

The money held by the DPS can only be released after the tenant is given a special ID number from the government-approved scheme.

Martin admitted making phone calls on several occasions posing as tenants to receive the number, which was then used to release more than £5,500 in funds.

Martin and his business each admitted eight charges of fraud and engaging in a banned commercial practice in 2013 and 2014.

Mr Dennison told the judge how Martin, who paid himself £100,000 a year, owned at least two cars, including a Maserati “with a customised paint job” and personalised number plates.

The prosecutor added that although Seekers UK has been returned to the DPS scheme, staff have been instructed not to handle any enquiries from Martin.

Andrew Turton, defending, said that the charges involved only the deposits of seven of the 708 held by the company.

“He regrets very much that this happened and he accepts that he was dishonest in using the money in the way he did,” the solicitor added.

Martin was given an 18-month jail sentence suspended for two years and ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work for the community.

He and UK Seekers were also ordered to foot the Kent Trading Standards’ £44,000 bill for investigating the fraud and to pay it within six months.

After the hearing, a council spokesman said: “Renting a property is expensive and consumers should be able to trust the letting agents with their money .

“Keith Martin and Seekers abused this trust.”

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