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A former council leader who used his role to pressurise a property owner to sell indirectly to him has been found guilty of four counts of misconduct in a public office.
Cllr Maurice James Alexander Ezekiel, 59, also known as Sandy Ezekiel, denied the charges during his 10 day trial at Maidstone Crown Court.
But he was found guilty today and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
In September 2009, Ezekiel asked his close friend Philip Emanuel, 64, to purchase Thanet District Council-owned property 12b King Street, Margate on his behalf. Emanuel spent his time living between properties he owned in the South of France, Texas and aboard his yacht in the Greek Islands.
In the days before Emanuel placed an offer, Ezekiel had requested the council’s Asset Manager keep him informed about any bids for the two-bedroom, semi-detached cottage without revealing his interest in the building.
Emanuel’s offer of £125,001 was accepted in October 2009 and the ownership transferred to him in March 2010. The following month, a tenant took up occupancy of 12b, with the monthly rental payments being paid into a bank account belonging to Ezekiel.
The ownership of 12b was eventually transferred from Emanuel to Ezekiel in November 2010 without any money changing hands between them.
But in mid-2009, Ezekiel also made enquiries with council officers regarding the contact details of the owner of 12a King Street with a view to Emanuel purchasing the property– a derelict shop next to 12b.
Ezekiel again used his influence at Thanet District Council’s and contacted the planning enforcement department asking it to take action against the owners of 12a unless the property was sufficiently renovated. The department told the owners of 12a they had a month to improve the appearance of the derelict shop or an order would be served which would require work to be done to improve the property or the council could undertake the work and invoice the owner for it. .
Worried, the owners of 12a then spoke to Thanet District Council representatives and in discussion it was decided the situation could be resolved if the owner of 12b - Emanuel – was willing to purchase the property.
Maidstone Crown Court heard that Emanuel eventually bought 12a King Street in February 2010 using funds provided by Ezekiel. He then transferred its ownership to Ezekiel in February 2011.
Ezekiel was found guilty of four counts of misconduct in a public office and Emanuel guilty of aiding and abetting fraud by abuse of position.
Emanuel was handed a 12-month suspended prison sentence.
Investigating officer Detective Sergeant Adrian Brown from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate said: ‘Ezekiel abused his position of power and trust in a public office to wrongly put pressure on the owners of 12a King Street to sell in an already stressful economic climate.
‘This came after he had already deceived his own council, of which he was meant to be the leader, by getting his close long-standing friend Philip Emanuel to purchase 12b King Street on his behalf.
‘I’m pleased they have both answered the justice system and this sends out a strong message to anyone thinking of misusing their power that they will be investigated and pursued to the full extent of the law.’