Stars' names used in ironing scam

Details of the "rescue package"" yesterday received a less-than-warm welcome from one man representing the defrauded franchisees…""They are trying to look as if they are doing something. It's not going to work, that's what my feeling is."

The New Zealand Herald
January 10, 2008

Stars' names used in ironing scam
David Eames

Fugitive Green Acres franchise master Keith Lapham allegedly employed up to nine others to help him defraud about 200 would-be ironing-franchise holders trying to make a living with the company.

In a scam believed to have run for up to 18 months, Lapham is believed to have employed bogus couriers and administrative staff to deliver consignments of ironing to the immigrant franchisees.

He raided second-hand and Salvation Army stores for clothing to keep the ironers busy, and used fake customer names on orders.

By the time horrified Green Acres bosses discovered what was happening, Lapham was organising ironing for George Clooney, Lady Diana and Ron and Nancy Reagan.

A torn cotton shirt - allegedly owned by Brad Pitt - was one garment receiving regular ironings.

Green Acres chief executive Andrew Chisholm told the Herald yesterday the company had names for "a couple" of Lapham's associates, and would be contacting the Serious Fraud Office, which is investigating.

Mr Chisholm said it was likely most of Lapham's accomplices were aware of what they were doing.

"Some people were, others might have chosen to ignore what, perhaps, was in front of them the whole time," he said.

And it was revealed yesterday that Lapham's victims could find themselves having to pay thousands of dollars more, after Green Acres insisted franchisees buy uniforms, have suitable vehicles and get them signwritten.

Mr. Chisholm and associate Logan Sears said they would honour Lapham-issued franchises, if holders could meet "standard qualifying criteria".

These also included proof of immigration status, ability to speak English and hold a driver's licence, and "eligibility to own and operate a business".

About 120 are understood already to have been approved.

But the company ruled out compensation payments - or refunds - for any of the predominantly Chinese and Indian immigrants, who paid Lapham up to $25,000 for their franchises.

Details of the "rescue package" yesterday received a less-than-warm welcome from one man representing the defrauded franchisees.

Ketan Meeraket said he paid $21,000 for his ironing contract, $16,000 of which was a franchise fee, the remaining $5000 for equipment.

There was no requirement that he buy a vehicle, and the terms of the contract guaranteed a minimum $650 a week before tax, he said.

"They are trying to look as if they are doing something. It's not going to work, that's what my feeling is."

He now faces buying a vehicle.

The terms of Green Acres' rescue package state no minimum weekly payments will be made "because of the uncertainty regarding the ironing business, and how Keith Lapham was operating this business".

Mr. Chisholm acknowledged yesterday that there was not enough ironing work to keep all franchise holders employed full-time, so a ballot would be held to select franchise-holders.

Once they started earning a minimum weekly income of $800, new franchisees would be selected to begin new ironing contracts.

Other franchisees were welcome to take up another Green Acres franchise opportunities, possibly in house cleaning or lawn mowing.

TOP CLIENTS
Green Acres franchise-holders were told they were ironing for:

  • Brad Pitt
  • George Clooney
  • Diana Spencer
  • Ron and Nancy Reagan

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Risks: Immigrants as prey, Fraud, Celebrity endorsement, Outright scam, New Zealand, 20080110 Stars’ names

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