A woman was callously cheated by her favourite taxi driver when he agreed to renovate her run-down house and sell it for her - but instead just sold it and pocketed the proceeds, a court heard recently.
According to GloucestershireLive, Paul Otto, 48, from Gloucester, had got to know Cindy Leng Fong well because he regularly drove her to a casino in Bristol, said prosecutor James Bennett at Gloucester Crown Court.
Ms Leng Fong’s property in Welch Road, Cheltenham, had fallen in to a state of disrepair and she had moved in with her mother, leaving the house to deteriorate still further, said Mr Bennett.
Otto admitted a charge of fraud by false representation between May 6 and September 23 2011.
Until that point he had denied the charge and was due to stand jury trial but pleaded guilty at the last minute on the basis that he was not dishonest from the outset.
Mr Bennett said Ms Leng Fong was a regular at the Bristol casino, making 273 visits between September 2010 and December 2012.
She was in the habit of using taxis as “her preferred method of transport,” Mr Bennett said.
Sarah Jenkins, representing Otto, said when he was her preferred taxi driver he thought he took her there about seventy times.
She said that they would get talking, as it was not a short journey.
“He would talk out of politeness about her family and circumstances,” Mrs Jenkins said. “The return journey was about £70 always paid in cash. He assumed she was a person of wealth.”
It was during these journeys that he learnt about her property and how she was struggling to maintain it.
Mr Bennett said she had bought the property for £42,000 in 1991 and it was sold by Otto in 2011 for £89,000.
Mr Bennett said that the agreement was that she would transfer the property to him, he would renovate it, and then sell it on her behalf.
However Otto “undertook no renovation work” and then sold it.
When Ms Leng Fong asked for her share of the sale, Otto did not pay up.
Mrs Jenkins said that Otto was unaware that Ms Leng Fong suffered from mental illness.
“There was no perceived vulnerability as far as he was concerned,” she said.
However she added her client “accepts his wrongdoing.”
She said that he had done some general clearance and tidying up to prepare the property for sale.
“It was only then that she said she expected a return of some money to her, and other family members became involved,” Mrs Jenkins said.
She told the judge that a legitimate transfer had been drawn up prior to this with a solicitor, although she added Otto took the view that ‘this is all a little bit too good to be true.’
Mrs Jenkins said Ms Leng Fong had told Otto that she couldn’t afford the renovations and did not want the worry of the property.
She added that Otto had put aside £20,000 that he could pay her immediately and would be in a position to compensate her by a further £20,000 in twelve months’ time.
Sentencing Otto to 20 months’ jail suspended for 24 months with 150 hours of unpaid work, Judge Paul Cook said: “I accept you were not aware of her mental illness.
“A legal agreement was struck up that you would repair the house, and then it would be sold.
“When she contacted you for her share you declined to return it to her.
“You were under no illusion that it was her money. You kept it. You accept that you were dishonest although this was not a fraudulent enterprise from the outset.
“This caused her substantial distress,” he said, adding that the loss to Ms Leng Fong was estimated at approximately £50,000.
The judge said his ‘primary concern’ was restitution, and therefore whilst the offending merited imprisonment he could suspend it so that Otto was in a position to continue working and pay her compensation.
Alongside the suspended sentence, the judge ordered Otto to pay £20,000 in compensation in the next 28 days, and a further £20,000 within 12 months.
The judge warned him that if he breached the orders “you will go to prison. You have escaped custody by a whisker today,” he concluded.