Jail term 'doesn't stop the suffering'

By Lincoln Tan

Ketan Trevidi says the jailing of Keith Lapham is a small victory for Lapham's victims in the war to get their money back. Photo / Martin Sykes
Ketan Trevidi says the jailing of Keith Lapham is a small victory for Lapham's victims in the war to get their money back. Photo / Martin Sykes

A former Green Acres master franchisee has been sentenced to three years and eight months in jail for running a "Ponzi" scheme ripping off hundreds of immigrants.

Keith Lapham pleaded guilty in the Auckland District Court to three charges of obtaining by deceit, which were laid by the Serious Fraud Office.

Lapham obtained between $1.5 million and $3.8 million from 256 people, mainly Indian and Chinese immigrants, promising them guaranteed returns on their investments for providing laundry services as part of the Green Acres ironing franchise.

Judge Mark Perkins said the victims and their families had suffered as a result of his actions, and some even had to return to their countries of origin because of his offending.

"Those people have come here as new immigrants to contribute to the community and they've had that ripped from them," he said.

"So instead of hitting the ground running, they've been put way behind the eight ball."

The victims each paid Lapham, originally from Fiji, around $25,000 each for non-existent ironing businesses in 2007.

Ketan Trevidi, spokesman for Franchise Watch - a group formed by Lapham victims - said the sentencing was just "the first step" in their quest for justice.

"This shows who is guilty of the crime, but what we really want to know is who is responsible for returning us our money," said Mr Trevidi, himself a victim.

"This is just the first step. This may be a battle won, but we have a long way to go before we can say we have won the war."

More than 60 victims have filed a legal claim in the High Court against Green Acres totalling $8.1 million for training, guaranteed income for the term of the franchise, their non-existent businesses and equipment.

The claim accused Green Acres of breaching its duty by having failed to monitor and control Lapham, failed to ensure adequate reporting and failed to terminate the franchise agreement with him.

Another victim, Kris Divate, who paid $25,000 to Lapham for his bogus franchise business, said putting Lapham in jail "does not stop the suffering".

"What's there to be happy?" Mr Divate asked.

"It doesn't matter whether they jail Keith for three days or 300 years, we are still suffering as a result of what he has done."

Mr Divate said many victims were still facing difficulties in repaying loans they took to pay Lapham, and others had lost their homes because they couldn't pay their mortgages.

He said answers were still needed as to where the $3.8 million dollars went to, and if any of the money would be returned to the victims.

Green Acres said it welcomed the sentence of three years eight months prison on each of the three charges, to be served concurrently, handed to Lap-ham.

"This sentence underlines both the seriousness of the charge, and the damaging consequences for all parties who suffered as a result of Lapham's actions," said spokesman Logan Sears.

"It vindicates the stance we took from the outset."

"For our part, we have now rebuilt our business after the damage he inflicted on it. This, to us, is the final chapter of the saga."

Mr Sears said the firm will be vigourously defending itself against the $8.1 million claim, filed by the victims, if it progressed any further.

Nick Paterson from the Serious Fraud Office said he was happy with the sentence for Lapham.

"It's hard from the victim's point of view ... they remain victims and are out of pocket."

- NZ Herald

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