Green Acres victims take to legal action

By Lincoln Tan

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Victims of the Keith Lapham franchise scam plan to take legal action against the parent company Green Acres.

Ketan Trevidi, spokesman for the group Franchise Watch, told a meeting of about 90 franchisees at the Mt Roskill Community Centre yesterday that the group already had the support of 180 franchisees allegedly defrauded by Mr Lapham to act on their behalf.

"We will be exploring our legal options to help victims get back what they have lost," said Mr Trevidi, himself a victim of the scam.

"We are in the process of speaking to several lawyers to see what is our best course of action."

Most of the franchisees, he said, were disappointed with Green Acres and felt the company was being irresponsible by distancing itself from Mr Lapham's actions.

Early estimates put the legal cost at around $100,000 and Franchise Watch may consider a public appeal to raise the money to help with legal costs.

About 200 people, mostly Chinese and Indian immigrants, had paid between $21,000 and $25,000 to Mr Lapham, a former Green Acres area manager and master franchise licensee for non-existent ironing franchises.

Mr Lapham is believed to be in hiding, and home maintenance company Green Acres says it did not have a legal obligation, only a moral one, to help these victims.

Last week, it offered what it called a rescue package to legitimise the businesses of franchisees who met the qualifying criteria which required them to speak English, drive and purchase suitable vehicles to do their own pick-up and delivery, all of which were not part of the initial agreement with Mr Lapham.

It said it also could not guarantee the incomes of between $800 and $1100 in the original agreement. The group unanimously rejected the offer at a meeting outside Green Acres' Parnell office on Friday.

Mr Trevidi said: "We will be writing as a group to Green Acres telling them what we think of the rescue package.

"It was reported in the media that eight franchisees have accepted the package, but the real story is 180 of us have outrightly rejected the Green Acres offer - which is basically telling us to just sign and shut up."

The group would also be filing a formal letter of complaint to the Commerce Commission and plans to help the Serious Fraud Office with its investigations.

Last night Green Acres spokesman Allan Botica said the company had been told by the SFO not to comment.

Victim Waqas Sheik said he supported the Franchise Watch plan of action. The ironing business was to have been the first business venture for this 21-year-old immigrant from Pakistan and his sister, but after paying an $11,000 deposit in a bank cheque made out to Green Acres just before Christmas, he never heard from Mr Lapham again.

Franchise Watch will launch its website and has asked victims to write their own blogs on the site and share their stories when it goes live.

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