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Martin & Co embroiled in fourth fraud allegation

Cheshire police has launched an investigation in relation to a number of complaints received about Martin & Co’s Chester office.

Speaking to The Negotiator, Paul Nolan, detective constable at Cheshire police, says: “We are in the early stages of the investigation at the moment. We’re investigating the office in relation to his business dealings. We’ve got a fair bit of work to do to see what’s gone on.”

He adds: “We are duty-bound to investigate to see if any fraud has taken place or if it remains as a civil matter and stays with the solicitors.” Nolan says that the complaints prompted a police investigation because they are all in relation to the same person.

Martin & Co’s Chester franchisee is Geoff Lavery, who co-owns the office with Gabah Ltd of which Geoff is understood to be a director with his wife. Lavery's solicitor, Peter Devine, senior partner at Cheshire-based solicitors Devine & Co, confirms the lettings agent is under medical supervision as a result of the stress of Martin & Co’s decision to termination his franchise agreement. Devine says: “They claim he’s breached his contract, but we have a counterclaim to that, that they didn’t fulfil their side of the agreement. They didn’t conduct any audit in the past three years or help him make the business a success.”

Speaking exclusively to The Negotiator, Martin & Co managing director, Ian Wilson, alleges that the agreement was terminated after a network-wide audit triggered concerns about the removal of client funds. “We identified three or four people in total we had concerns about following our group-wide audit. In Chester, we discovered that £75,000 had been moved. We asked how the money was going to be refunded, but ultimately we didn’t feel he’d be able to fully recover the money, so we terminated the franchise agreement.”

Wilson claims that Lavery launched another lettings business, called Three Counties Lettings, to siphon off client funds. Insolvency practitioner Bridgestones has been appointed as administrator for the two businesses, which are now in liquidation, and a creditors’ meeting is understood to be scheduled for September 15 at the Hilton Hotel in Chester.

Wilson says it has cost the Martin & Co £7,000 to start High Court injunction proceedings to gain access to Lavery’s accounts and records, to which Wilson claims Lavery is allegedly denying the network access.

Wilson says: “We have partial records from the audit, which means we have been able to contact a number of clients. We also contacted Trading Standards and Chester police.”

Lavery was unavailable for comment.

This is the fourth fraud allegation Martin & Co has dealt with this year. As The Negotiator revealed in May, Wilson was locked in talks with Kent police in connection with an alleged case of fraud, which was one of three alleged cases of stolen deposits with which he was dealing at the time, collectively amounting to more than £190,000.

Wilson says the first network audit, which was launched as a result of these cases, completed in May, with the second completed in July. In addition to the allegation relating to the Chester branch, he alleges that the second audit also discovered a franchisee that had been using £150,000 of client money for other purposes, which has resulted in the appointment of a substitute manager for the branch and the franchisee instead becoming a minority shareholder in the business. Meanwhile, another franchisee was found to have transferred client money into an interest-paying account.

Martin & Co's Wrexham office is currently covering the Chester area and is in talks with the office landlord about taking over the lease.

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