Franchisees angry at house sale

Defrauded Green Acres franchisees are furious that the house they knew as belonging to Keith Lapham - the man who allegedly conned them of millions - is up for auction. But what they didn't know was the former Green Acres area manager no longer owned the

The New Zealand Herald
February 14, 2008

Franchisees angry at house sale
Lincoln Tan

Defrauded Green Acres franchisees are furious that the house they knew as belonging to Keith Lapham - the man who allegedly conned them of millions - is up for auction.

But what they didn't know was the former Green Acres area manager no longer owned the house as he had last week transferred his share to flatmate and co-owner of the property Gary Philip Matthews.

The house on 16 Ennismore Rd, which was also where the former franchise master ran his alleged Green Acres franchising scam, has been listed with property agents LJ Hooker to be auctioned on February 27.

Described as the "best buy in town", advertisement brochures also said the property - a 1920s refurbished character bungalow - was a "must sell" because of an "over-committed vendor".

It has a CV of $530,000, but the property title showed the house was mortgaged to ANZ National Bank Limited. When approached by the Herald, real estate agent Steven Glucina, who listed the property, did not want to comment other than saying it was Matthews and not Lapham who had approached him to sell the house. "I am just here to do my job, and that is to sell this property," he said.

Some franchisees were shocked to see the house on the market - they had hoped that it would be the one thing Lapham owned that could give them back the money they had lost. "It is absolutely unfair," said Ketan Trevidi, one of Lapham's victims. "It is totally unjustifiable how Keith [Lapham] is able to just cash up and get on with his life while we are left to worry about how we pay our next rent and mortgage."

Lapham is accused of selling non-existent Green Acres ironing franchises to 200 unsuspecting victims, mainly Chinese and Indian immigrants, who each paid him between $21,000 and $25,000. The matter is being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office.

Many of the franchisees are familiar with the property, as it was there that many signed their agreements with Lapham to buy these bogus franchises, and some had also attended parties hosted by the alleged fraudster.

Looi Zhang, another victim, said he was shocked when he saw the for sale sign outside the place he still calls "Lapham's house" on Tuesday. "Again we are let down by the system," said Zhang. "Every time it seems Lapham gets away with more."

The defrauded franchisees have formed a group called Franchise Watch and engaged Auckland lawyer Raymond Huo to represent them for their legal challenge against Lapham and parent company, Green Acres.

Meanwhile, board members of the Franchise Association of New Zealand (FANZ) met Minister for Commerce Lianne Dalziel on Tuesday to discuss changes needed to improve franchise legislation.


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