An estate agent who swindled £67,000 from tenants and pumped the cash into her failing businesses has been jailed.
Helen Gregory, 55, of Valley Road, Spital, Chesterfield, was sentenced to ten months in prison when she appeared at Derby Crown Court on Wednesday, April 29.
Gregory - who owned estate agencies which operated in the Peaks, Dales, and Chesterfield - admitted three charges of engaging in unfair commercial practices in August last year.
At the time, Gregory’s sentencing was delayed by six months, following reassurances that she would repay the £67,000 owed to identified victims.
But the court heard Gregory has not paid back a single penny - despite £45,000 being paid to her by another business in December 2014 and January this year.
Instead of giving the money to creditors, as promised, Gregory immediately transferred the funds into her partner’s account - who then bought the couple a £25,000 Jaguar car, the court heard.
Judge John Burgess said: “There are victims who are quite understandably furious.
“Not just that they lost their money, but the case has been strung-out for two years or more.
“It sticks in the throat that someone could buy themselves out of a custodial sentence.
”Jailing Gregory, Judge Burgess said: “It would have been more impressive if the £45,000 you received had not been paid to your partner, and then funds from that process gone to a payment of an expensive motor car.
“This money should have been paid back to creditors.”
In 2007, the law was changed so that deposits had to be paid into a protection scheme.
Once in the scheme, funds can only be released upon the agreement of both tenant and landlord.
In 2011, Trading Standards began investigating Gregory after receiving dozens of complaints that deposit money had not been paid back tenants.
Christopher Lowe, prosecuting, said investigations found a total of 1,126 deposits were received by Gregory during the five years of her offending.
Mr Lowe said: “Of which some 796 had not been paid into the Deposit Protection Scheme.
These deposits total some £548,747.
”Further investigations found that £67,000 was owed to victims identified by Trading Standards.
Robert Sandford, defending Gregory, said the rest of the money had been paid back to tenants – despite not being paid into the scheme.
The investigation found that deposits received by Gregory, which should have been paid into the Deposit Protection Service had not been received by the service.
Gregory was registering tenancy deposits with the service, but many were cancelled by the service after money was not transferred into the scheme.
In December 2012 Gregory was arrested by police on suspicion of fraud by abusing her position as a director.
In August 2014 - after pleading guilty to a lesser charge - Gregory claimed she was close to selling a property in Matlock, which would raise enough funds to repay victims.
The judge accepted this offer and delayed sentencing.
But the court heard last week that this sale had fallen through and no subsequent offers had been made.
However, Mr Sandford said Gregory’s partner had exchanged contracts on a property he owned in Bakewell, and was prepared to pay her debt with the proceeds.
Mr Sandford said there was a “real prospect” that victims could be repaid in full by the start of June.
But Judge Burgess did not accept the offer.
He said: “This is a case of promises, promises, promises being made and not kept.
“I’m not prepared to accept another promise and have to look at the damage which has been done.
The harm can be seen in the anger expressed by the people who have lost money because of you.
“This is far too serious for anything other than a custodial sentence.
”In mitigation, Mr Sandford said Gregory had an “unblemished character” before the charges were brought against her,
He said Gregory’s businesses began failing as the financial crisis unfolded.
He said she started “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.
Mr Sandford said that, in the wake of publicity surrounding the case, Gregory has been the subject of verbal abuse, and her property in Stoney Middleton has been the subject of vandalism.
The offences, under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, took place while Gregory was the director of three letting agencies Beechwood Lettings Ltd, Letzlet Limited and Beechwood Property Portfolio, which operated in Chesterfield, Matlock and Bakewell.
Gregory was jailed for ten months, and told she will serve half-of-that in custody.
She was also banned from working as a company director for six years.
A proceeds of crime hearing has been set for September 10.