Catching up: Franchise victims hoping for closure

Like the others affected, who were mostly Chinese and Indian immigrants who lost up to $25,000 each, Mr Trevidi had taken a $16,000 bank loan to pay Green Acres area manager and franchise master Keith Lapham for a non-existent ironing franchise business.

The New Zealand Herald
January 2, 2009

Catching up: Franchise victims hoping for closure
Lincoln Tan

Ketan Trevidi spent a large part of last year organising meetings, planning strategies and fronting the media as spokesman for victims of a Green Acres scam.

Like the others affected, who were mostly Chinese and Indian immigrants who lost up to $25,000 each, Mr Trevidi had taken a $16,000 bank loan to pay Green Acres area manager and franchise master Keith Lapham for a non-existent ironing franchise business.

Yesterday, for the first time in over a year, Mr Trevidi took time off to be with family and close friends at the beach, celebrating the end of what he described as a "nightmare year".

In November, Lapham was charged with fraud and obtaining by deception after the Serious Fraud Office alleged that he obtained $3,591,900 from 172 people whom he granted sub-franchises by telling them they would pay them a guaranteed weekly income of $650 when he knew he would not be able to pay that money.

Another charge alleges that he obtained $244,800 by making false representations to Green Acres about how many sub-franchises he had granted. Lapham did not enter a plea, and was remanded on bail until early next month.

But Mr Trevidi said that news of the charges against Lapham came as cold comfort for him.

"His arrest does not pay our bills, but what Lapham did has left many people facing hardship, with the possibility of losing their homes and struggling to keep up with mortgages," Mr Trevidi said.

"Like them, I am struggling to meet the $140 each week to repay the $16,000 loan I took from the National Bank to buy a business that never existed."

Mr Trevidi, who moved to New Zealand in 2003 from Ahmedabad, India, says the bitter experience has taught him to be "less trusting".

"I have become very careful in my dealings with anyone in this system now. The laws here are just too liberal, and people with a crooked mind can manipulate it to their advantage."

Mr Trevidi, a trainer at Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, says the only good thing that came out of the scam was that the "shared common problem" brought the victims closer together in their adopted homeland.

Through networking and meetings organised by Franchise Watch, a group formed by the victims, many of the immigrant victims had gone from being strangers to becoming friends.

Mr Trevidi said he was hoping that for the victims, this will be a year of closure for them.

"Many of us, including myself, have accepted that the money we paid to Lapham is lost," he said.

"It has caused us a lot of stress and bad feelings, and we hope that closure will come this year, so that we can each just get on with our lives."

Mr Trevidi said the group were waiting for a report from a Queen's Counsel, due on January 15, on whether they had a case to take civil action against Green Acres for reparation.


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