Fired 'Apprentice' star admits forging clients' mortgage applications

A FORMER contestant in Lord Sugar's hit The Apprentice today admitted four counts of fraud by faking mortgage applications from clients.

Mortgage broker Christopher Farrell faced magistrates in Plymouth, Devon, charged with four counts of fraud by false representation.

Farrell, 29, from Arrowe Park Road, Upton, Wirral, Merseyside, spoke only to confirm his name, age and address and enter the guilty pleas.

He was originally arrested in August, shortly before the current series of the BBC1 show - which finished on Sunday - was broadcast. He will be sentenced at a later date.

The former Royal Marine, who heard "You're fired" from Lord Sugar in week eight of the show, made a guest appearance on Sunday night's final when he was part of winner Stella English's team creating, marketing and selling an alcoholic drink.

His Apprentice profile said he claims to show no emotion, likes to be pushed and, as a former Royal Marine, is not afraid to give people a "kick up the backside".

A keen golfer and health and fitness fanatic, he also claims to be "focused and driven".

He told BBC execs: "I've been to the other side of things where friends lose legs, lose limbs, so I know I'm lucky to be where I am.

"I was a sniper in the Royal Marines and I take that killer instinct across into business."

In pleading guilty, Farrell also asked for three further charges to be taken into consideration.

After hearing submissions from the prosecution and defence, magistrates decided their powers of sentence were insufficient and committed Farrell to Plymouth Crown Court to be sentenced on January 28.

They also ordered a pre-sentence report and released the former TV star on unconditional bail until sentencing.

Farrell, who wore a dark pinstripe suit, light-blue shirt with dark blue tie and grey coat and scarf, held a copy of The Times newspaper over his face to hide from photographers as he left court.

Magistrates were told that the mortgage adviser worked for a firm in Plymouth for nearly two years until he was sacked.

Prosecutor David Gittins told the court: "Christopher Farrell started working as a mortgage and insurance adviser with the company, Mortgages for Plymouth, in November 2007 until he was told 'You're fired' in August 2009.

"After that he took part in the BBC programme The Apprentice until he was fired from that in November."

Mr Gittins explained that Farrell, who earned a salary of 1,600 a month, would earn commission if he made sales of more than 5,000 a month.

Desperate to earn more money to support his wife and young family, Farrell started inflating the incomes of clients to ensure their mortgage applications were successful - thereby hitting his monthly sales target.

Farrell would either alter P60 forms or payslips to show his clients in a more favourable light to a mortgage lender or create fake documents, magistrates were told.

"The clients had no knowledge of what he did," Mr Gittins said.

The court heard that Farrell made three mortgage applications and one re-mortgage application on behalf of his clients - totalling 750,000.

The first application for Nigel Blenkarne for a mortgage of 575,000 was turned down by the Halifax Building Society, despite Farrell changing a P60 and a payslip to show he earned 120,000 a year instead of his real annual salary of 40,000.

"He altered the monthly pay slips and the Halifax approved that mortgage application but a forged signature was spotted," Mr Gittins said.

"For a short time Mr Blenkarne had a fraud mark against his name. He unfortunately did apply for a mortgage with the Royal Bank of Scotland but because of the fraud mark they rejected him."

The second application was on behalf of Marcia Edwards to the Santander Bank, which gave her a mortgage despite Farrell altering her P60 form and a payslip to show she earned 6,500 a year more than she did.

The third mortgage application was to the Santander Bank on behalf of Peter Phillips and his partner Marlise Ceenaeme, who wanted to borrow 93,000.

Farrell copied a payslip from Miss Ceenaeme, who worked at the University of Plymouth, to show that Mr Phillips worked there as well.

The reality was that Mr Phillips had recently graduated from the university and was looking for work and not earning 1,600 a month.

The fraud came to light when Santander carried out its own routine checks and noticed that Mr Phillips's university pay slip was false.

"Miss Ceenaeme was suspended from her job, fortunately only for a week, until it became clear who the real culprit was," Mr Gittins said.

Farrell also dealt with a re-mortgage application to the Abbey National Building Society on behalf of a Mr and Mrs Michael Bray, who wanted to raise 40,000 to help their daughter get on the property ladder.

As the couple were both self-employed, Farrell amended a payslip from Plymouth Council to pretend it had come from Mrs Bray's former employer Lewisham Council, in London, and also fabricated a letter purporting to show Mr Bray's income.

The court heard that Farrell had made a bad job of forging a Lewisham Council payslip.

"He failed to notice that two of the payslips still had Plymouth telephone numbers on them, which he had not altered," Mr Gittins said.

After Farrell was arrested he first tried to blame his colleagues at Mortgages for Plymouth for forging the documents but quickly admitted his guilt - and pleaded guilty today at the first opportunity.

"The Crown's case is that by falsifying these documents the mortgage applications would be more readily accepted and so that he would receive more commission once his monthly target had been exceeded," Mr Gittins said.

The prosecutor explained that there was no actual loss to the mortgage lenders and that Farrell's clients were continuing to meet their monthly repayments.

Tracey Baker, defending, said the monthly bonus for meeting sales targets amounted to between 300 and 400 and Farrell had never received it.

"He does not accept that he was dismissed and he says he resigned and there is a letter of resignation," she told the court.

"What he did was not particularly sophisticated and was always likely to be discovered."

Miss Baker said Farrell carried out the fraud because he was under "pressure" to earn more money to support his family.

"This is a man who was married with a young child and it is those pressures that led him to commit these offences," she said.

"I accept he was in a position of trust. He did it to trigger his monthly sales target."

Miss Baker said that Farrell had turned to the financial industry after leaving the Royal Marines and had now gone into the security industry.

She explained that he worked freelance for a company supplying security services overseas to the shipping industry.

He was often away on contracts for a month at a time but had not worked since September because of the criminal proceedings.

"He now lives at his parents' home with his wife and child, aged seven," she said.

Terry Bray, chair of the bench, ordered a pre-sentence report and told the defendant: "Until sentence you will be remanded on unconditional bail.

"If you fail to turn up to the Crown Court you will be arrested - and that is an offence in itself."

Farrell's arrest for fraud emerged on the eve of the start of the current series of Lord Sugar's show when it was also revealed that he has a weapons conviction, which he did not disclose to TV producers.

Today, magistrates were told that Farrell had two previous convictions for possessing an offensive weapon.

Farrell appeared before Plymouth Crown Court in September last year - just before filming for The Apprentice started - to admit the two charges..

Police had found an extendable baton and a knuckleduster in his Mercedes after being called to his Plymouth home following allegations he had hit his wife with the knuckleduster.

Judge Francis Gilbert rejected claims the weapons were "trinkets" from his forces days being stored in the car, giving him a two-year conditional discharge but ordering him to pay 847 costs. His wife did not press charges.

A check did not pick up the conviction because it was made in the month before his court appearance.