Fraudster letting agent Russel Baker pocketed more than £250,000 in rents and deposits paid to him by buy to let tenants.

Baker admitted taking the money from clients of Ashby’s property agents in Bovey Tracey, Devon at Exeter Crown Court.

Baker set up a network of companies to run the business.

The court was told tenants paid deposits believing the money would be held in a deposit protection scheme, but instead Baker took the cash.

Landlords also complained that Baker collected rents from tenants but failed to pay them on.

Baker also borrowed money from friends and relatives to fund his business.

The court heard that his victims lost £455,000, but he has not faced charges involving the full amount as one lender has died.

Although renting out buy to let homes for landlords amounted to a significant part of Baker’s property business, he also acted as an estate agent.

One couple handed him £22,500 as a deposit to buy a home, but Baker pocketed the cash instead of passing the money to solicitors.

Police and trading standards officers, who investigated the complaints from landlords and tenants, told the court Baker believed if the companies owed the money paid into his business that he could not be held responsible for the fraud.

Sentencing was adjourned until September 12 to allow police to sell baker’s assets to raise money to repay some of the stolen cash.

Devon County councillor Roger Croad said: “Baker was unscrupulous in deceiving his customers, his friends, and the authorities. He was such an accomplished cheat that some of the friends that he betrayed didn’t see themselves as the victim of a crime when initially approached by the investigators.

“Baker’s activities have had a massive impact on many people in the Bovey Tracey area but it was their willingness to support this investigation that has produced this successful conviction.”