We help sheriff pluck chicken Ponzi scheme - Investors swindled of over R210m

Agri Smart chief operations officer David Scott Laughland will face the might of the law after his company allegedly swindled investors out of about R120-million in the past 18 months.

This follows the article Sowetan published last Monday in which we exposed the investment as an apparent rip-off. Last Thursday, Steenkamp Attorneys obtained an interdict allowing the sheriff of the court to attach anything from pens, pencils, cars, property, bank accounts to furniture that Laughland owns, said Christo van Niekerk of Steenkamp Attorneys.

But Laughland was neither home nor in his office when the sheriff attached his properties on Friday.

The court order was served on FNB at Bank City, central Johannesburg, allowing the law firm to attach Laughland's bank accounts, said Van Niekerk. They also served the order on the Financial Services Board, the SA Reserve bank, the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission and the Hawks.

Van Niekerk estimated the investors' loses at R120-million. He said Steenkamp Attorneys took an inventory of all the stuff found at Laughland's house and business premises. "We will go back to remove the items," he said.

Laughland is alleged to have hoodwinked about 600 unsuspecting consumers and promised them lucrative profits after luring them to invest into a chicken farming business that was never set to fly.

He allegedly swindled investors from budding entrepreneurs to pensioners and pastors alike by showing them only one poultry production farm in Bronkhorstspruit, about 50km east of Pretoria, under false pretence that it had an output of about 30000 chickens per month.

In his adverts, he also raised their expectations when he told them he would like to produce a minimum of 350000 chickens per month in order to cover the demands of the contractor he sends the chickens to. To reach that minimum target, he needed 15 more farms and encouraged investors to come in their numbers to either own the whole or part of the farm, with promises that he would assist them with management issues for the first few years.

That saw consumers like Betty Malapane, 50, of KwaMhlanga in Mpumalanga investing R500000 of her pension fund after resigning as a teacher in August last year.

Malapane said she saw this as a viable investment product after a friend sold it to her. The friend and her husband had invested R300000 and received the promised payout of R9000 for two months when they enticed her to join, she said.

The friends, a well-known pastor and his wife, confirmed this but preferred to have their identity withheld, stating they were embarrassed by the decision they made.

Shivaan Sunderlall, 35, an engineer based in Mpumalanga, lost R250000 after taking two packages with a total payout of R11000 per month. He said he was shown a vacant farm with no chicken in sight but a few huts and told it was one of the 15 farms earmarked for the growing investment scheme. He received nothing after parting with his hard-earned money, he said. David Moerane and his wife Tsholofelo of Rustenburg in North West were the first investors to blow the whistle on the scam. They paid R50000 for a mini chicken house and 500 chickens they were promised in June.

Moerane was working on his retirement plan as he wanted to take an early retirement when he was lured into the scheme as he has a passion for farming. Later, he attended their presentation where he was offered a contract of R50000 as he already had a plot where he could put up a mini house that could hold 1000 chickens. He was guaranteed a weekly profit of R16000, which lured him into parting with his R50000, he said. His plot's measurements were taken, and he was promised that a chicken house would be built within two weeks and chickens delivered.

He is still waiting to this day.

Laki Lekala of Sunnyside in Pretoria said he responded to an internet advert Agri Smart posted on OLX and Gumtree in June last year. He then took a loan to invest in the enterprise.

Lekala received seven payments until they stopped in March this year, he said.

Upon approaching their offices, he found 12 more people who were complaining about nonpayments, he said.

Though all of them were given forms to cancel and claim their money back, nothing happened afterwards.

Martin Gouws, who leased his farm to Laughland, said the article published last Monday was just the tip of an iceberg.

Gouws said within a few months after leasing his farm to Laughland, about four people he knew had lost more than R1-million in his "investment" scheme.

Gouws said he tried to warn the SA Reserve Bank about Laughland's activities but was not successful as they ignored him.

"It is nothing but a Ponzi scheme," said Gouws.

When asked for comment, Laughland told Consumer Line to stop harassing him and his company.

"I am applying for a interim protection order against you tomorrow (last Thursday). You will hear from our lawyers soon," he said.

Van Niekerk has since urged investors to contact Steenkamp Attorneys at 074-166-9441; fax: 086-573-3674/074-166-9441/074-162- 0665/074-175-3394/074-170-2377 or e-mail christo@steenkampatt.co.za in order to take part in this class action and ensure justice is done.

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