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A harrowing tale of Mrs Villma reveals how an investment conman fleeced her vulnerable start-up business, - Michael Fisher unravels

Fraudster on the prowl

Casting a damper over Goa’s business friendly environment, a fraudster in the guise of a business consultant swindles financially weak start-ups offering them fake promises to assist in their businesses from procuring a loan to production to marketing to the end users.

Villma Fernandes from Mapusa is in peace of mind managing her food processing business after the start-up harrowing years caused by a fraudster.

Today her product, yogurt under the brand name of Nutripik is competing with major brands. Nutripik is well accepted by consumers in selective stores and super markets across Mapusa to Panaji.

Villma initially invested Rs 6 lakhs in 2006 with Mr. David Jonathan proprietor of M/s. Intertrade to start a Kulfi Manufacturing franchisee unit. But Jonathan in the guise of a consultant was just adding another victim to his con-list. He is from Mumbai, married to a Goan and has settled in Saligao. Although Villma has put the incident behind, the impact of the hurt still lingers on.

The monthly turnover of her company Savi Fun Foods (SFF) has increased 10 times from the time the unit started. SFF is also into distribution of consumable ice-cubes and cheese, butter and other dairy products which are doing equally well,” Villma told B&C. However, demand for our products is exceeding supply; this in turn is kneading us on to expand capacity, and to introduce our new product – flavored yogurt. Our products are FSSAI compliant meeting the relevant health standards of FDA.

With lament writ on her face, she shared her harrowing moments. I hope the fraudster is punished, but in a state like ours, such fraudsters thrive on. In her urge to start a business in the late 1990s she would scan through the Navhind Times and what caught her attention was an advertisement: For entrepreneurs and start-ups needing assistance in financial funding; procuring licenses, contacts, David Jonathan.

After reading the advertisement Villma thought she found what she was searching for – A Guardian Angel. He was very convincing in the introduction stage as he was a sweet talker. He developed a business model for my startup to achieve business targets.

To begin with, he didn’t appear greedy, but he is a persistent. Once a conversation was started he surprised me about himself and his vast experiences in food processing in Mumbai and in Israel were either embellished or complete fiction, especially among the entrepreneurial people like me. He exaggerated his knowledge, expertise, and accomplishments. He called himself #1 professional business consultant. Later I found out he never had a business nor promoted one.  He was not even a freelancer. All he had done was cheating people in the name of a Business Consultant

He suggested I venture into dairy products such as curd, kulfi and its derivatives. I was asked to shell out Rs 5,97,250 as franchise money to start the venture. This was to provide me with all the production equipment, two freezers,  packing  material, weighing scale, providing the required electrical points, , Sealing machine, Publicity handbills, Cash Memo Books, all required NOC’s and licenses, education of the method of production, labour and marketing and distribution support and his fees.

He dissuaded me from going to EDC for financial assistance, but insisted on getting the loan from UCO Bank. However, as collateral we had to mortgage our FD’s with the Bank. I paid him Rs5,80,000 in small tranches. Initially what he made us to understand it would be hand-holding from ground work.

From the moment I paid him the first tranche in 2006 till 2008, it was just paying him money and nothing was happening. We were wasting our time making visits to his place Office in Saligao. With the money we gave him he got SFF the required licenses and supplied only 70 percent of the promised material with the assurance of supplying the balance later.

While he charged me for 5,000 pouches, he would deliver 2000, in this way I would received half the quantity, with assurance of getting the balance later, but we are yet to receive it.  In 2007 he obtained the license. But the venture was yet to start because I did not know the technology and gradually I discover he didn’t know it either. Later I found out from others who were duped by him was more bizarre.

All that he said about food processing was plagiarized from the internet of other consultant testimonials. He is a thoroughbred fraudster.

In 2008, I quit my job as branch manager of an Overseas Career consultancy company, to start this venture. The Bank Loan EMI’s started taking a toll on our finances with the venture not kicking off. We decided to close the Bank loan with the collaterals. The stress was too much and my husband assisted me full time. With his support and encouragement we started the business venture on our own as set yogurt manufactures.

We sold off the kulfi manufacturing equipment. It was the year 2010 when the going was getting tough and we needed funds, so I contacted EDC who advised me to meet CIBA officials a division of Fr Agnel Institute Verna for financial counseling.

Tushar Sawant manager AEDI of CIBA made it very simple for us to understand all the guidelines in procuring a loan from the CMRY.  With the amount sanctioned, we purchased the right type of freezers, some equipment and a delivery van. After that the business really took off.

“The government should scan these consultants and get CIBA’s approval for them to practice, in this way we can get rid of these fakes,” Sawant suggested.

We restarted all over again. Some 20 customers were the R&D.  Once convinced that our products will be accepted we distributed it in all the super markets in the vicinity and later to Mapusa and Panaji.

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