A locksmith is facing jail after taking advantage of dozens of residents by breaking down their doors when they were locked out and massively overcharging for installing new locks.
Mark Makowski, was convicted of 15 counts of fraud, costing members of the public thousands of pounds.
Makowski operated as an emergency locksmith trading as Pronto locks ltd with a business address based at New Cavendish St, but was actually based in Herts, operating across the south-east.
His victims typically had lost their keys or locked them inside and where desperate to return home and found Makowski in the Yellow Pages.
He would give them a verbal quote but once he arrived would tell them there was no alternative methods of gaining entry to the premises other than drilling or destroying the doorlock.
The lock would then be drilled through, more often than not damaging the door furniture and surround, with scant regard for workmanship or professionalism.
Makowski then offered to install a new lock and presented the customer with a hand written invoice which included an over-inflated price for the materials and labour provided.
The Old Bailey heard that in at least three cases victims were shocked to find the final bill totalled over £1,000.
One of the victims, Lance Tucket, called Makowski in July 2007, after returning from holiday to find himself locked out of his home in Lady Margaret Road, Kentish Town, northwest London.
The locksmith drilled through two locks, replaced them and charged him a total of £1,160.90. The cost price of the replacement parts was just £47. Mr Tucket was so unhappy with the quality of the replacements that he paid another locksmith £110 to repair the damage. After receiving complaints Trading Standards officers conducting two sting operations, pretending to have been locked out.
On each occasion a premises was temporarily used, and a trading standards officer acted as a customer. In each case an independent locksmith expert said the problem could be rectified in a matter of moments and without recourse to extreme measures employed by the defendant to gain entry. Makowski had the words "Rogue Trader" as a screen saver on his mobile phone, the court heard.
Bail was refused and he was remanded in custody to be sentenced on 31 August. Judge Anthony Morris told him it would be "inevitable that a substantial amount of imprisonment will be imposed on you."
He added: "This is a case of great seriousness."
Sue Jones, Head of Trading Standards said: "We are delighted that justice has finally caught up with this trader, who charged his customers large sums of money for a very poor quality and often totally unnecessary work. We hope the fact that his activity was proved to be fraudulent sends out a clear message to other traders who may be tempted to behave in this way."
"This has been a lengthy case and involved a lot of hard work both by Westminster Trading Standards and our colleagues in the Trading Standards Regional Fraud Unit who have been of great assistance".
Westminster Cabinet Member for Business, Enterprise and Skills, Cllr Brian Connell said: "His despicable behaviour dates back over a number of years, and he didn't care who his victims were or their financial situation, young, old, rich or poor, they were all considered fair game to satisfy his greed. It's a credit to the work of our trading standards team and other agencies who doggedly pursued this crook to bring him to justice.
"We welcome this verdict which will hopefully serve as a lesson to others who are tempted to exploit in this way; we will always act to protect the public from crooks like this."
John Peerless, Trading Standards Regional Fraud Unit Manager said: “It was the need to tackle just this sort of complex criminality with offences in many local authority areas that led to BIS funding the Regional Scambuster projects. We were pleased to offer extensive support to assist Westminster Trading Standards with this long running, wide spread investigation. This man has been trading in this way for many years to the detriment of many hundreds of consumers made vulnerable when locked out of their properties. Westminster are to be congratulated for taking this matter on after he started using an accommodation address in their area.”
Dr Steffan George from the Master Locksmiths Association said: “We are delighted that the jury found Makowski guilty of all accounts of fraud and are pleased all of the hard work Trading Standards, Westminster Council and our members have put into this case has been rewarded. Rogue traders give our industry a bad reputation but thankfully there are only a handful of them out there and this is the perfect example of how we won’t let them get away with ripping off the public.
“The majority of locksmiths are hard working individuals who offer customers first class advice and services and strive to build the locksmithing profession. It is important to always use a reputable third party accredited locksmith so seek someone who is part of a recognised trade association such as the Master Locksmiths Association. By doing so you are safe in the knowledge that the person you have hired is a trustworthy, experienced and professional individual who will use their skill and knowledge to help customers in difficult times. The fact MLA approved companies are vetted via CRB checks on staff, undergo regular inspection and employ a qualified locksmith helps ensure customers receive the best service possible.”
Notes to Editors:
In 2000 Aaron Locksmith Ltd was convicted of two offences of giving misleading price indications to customers at Enfield Magistrates while Makowski was company secretary
The company changed its name to Phoenix Locksmith on June 16, 2003, following Makowski's first appearance on BBC's Rogue Traders four days earlier.
Makowski was convicted at Hertford Magistrates of five charges of giving misleading indications on September 5, 2003,
Makowski was fined a total of £2,100 and ordered to pay £3,759.27 prosecution costs.
By April 2004 he had been served with a permanent injunction for harassing a BBC local radio journalist who investigated him in 2000.
In October 2006 he was convicted in his absence of four counts of giving misleading price indications at West Hertford Magistrates.