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‘Conman’ Levick leaves elderly couple penniless

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The Beth Din rarely encourages people to go to secular courts to resolve financial disputes, but it did so as a last resort for the elderly Michels couple, who lost their life savings to disgraced businessman Martin Levick.

Levick, whose family were close friends of Peter Michels, 80, and his wife, Cheryl, 74, allegedly left them penniless after convincing them to hand over their money to him to invest.

The Beth Din said it had done everything in its power to help the couple to recover some of their money.

The Michels now rely on food parcels from Yad Aharon & Michael, and money from the Chevrah Kadisha after allegedly investing their hard-earned life savings with Levick.

Levick the former director and chief executive of investment house Genesis Capital and Genesis Capital Partners (renamed Calculus Capital) was sequestrated in June 2019. He was previously accused of fleecing investors and former colleagues and friends of hundreds of millions of rands.

The Michels owned and founded the once thriving and popular pharmaceutical business, Riki Wholesalers. They closed the business in January 2019 after 46 years of successful trading. Things had taken a downward turn following some bad business decisions and Peter’s ailing health.

With money saved and funds left over after the closure, the Michels planned to start a new business as they still needed to generate an income for themselves and their extended family. Their monthly expenses and Peter’s medical bills were burdensome. They had about R3.5 million with which to get involved in a business venture.

In October 2020, the couple contacted Levick, whom they had known since he was a child, for commercial and legal advice regarding an interesting business proposition.

Cheryl said she believed Levick “had a legal background and was a successful businessman. I also trusted Martin in light of the close relationship which my family shared with his over the past 30 years or so.”

The Michels allegedly invested their entire nest egg with Levick over the space of a year, during which he allegedly baffled them with business opportunities which allegedly turned out to be seemingly non-existent – resulting in a never-ending saga of broken promises, shattered trust, and financial decimation.

Although there are some assets which are being sold off, they have been left with no money for food.

Levick allegedly advised the Michels not to start a new business but instead invest the funds with him in his mother, Lois Cherie Levick’s, loan business because this could get them a better return, according to the Michels.

At the time the Michels approached him, it was incumbent on Levick to notify them that he was sequestrated and that he couldn’t help them. They said he did mention that he had a court case pending, and couldn’t assist them for six weeks.

However, he contacted them on 13 December 2020 and allegedly offered them an investment, which he represented to them as an opportunity “they couldn’t miss out on”.

This “lucrative” investment opportunity was in his mother’s loan business, and he told them that if they invested immediately, they would make significant returns, according to the Michels.

“He told us money needed to be deposited by the end of that day so as to take advantage of the investment opportunity,” said Cheryl.

Levick allegedly instructed the Michels (Cheryl) to pay R250 000 into the account of Navac Maritime Corporation and R50 000 into his mother’s account.

It has since transpired that the money that was paid to Navac Maritime Corporation was then allegedly allocated to be used to settle a debt for Levick’s mother’s home renovations.

Over the course of a year, in a series of multiple transactions, the Michels invested more than R3 million with the “smooth-talking” and “charming” Levick.

“Prior to every investment, Martin would contact me and tell me how well our investment was doing,” Cheryl said. “He would mention a figure of how much our investment had grown and would request more money as he had other investment opportunities. He never provided me with a statement or anything reflecting the value of the investment,” she said.

“In hindsight, he was intent on getting us to invest every last penny we had with him. Eventually we ran out of money completely. I called him incessantly, but he avoided my calls. I resorted to selling my jewellery out of sheer desperation and one of our cars. I literally begged him for money,” she said.

Levick allegedly conducted transactions on his mother’s bank account, which he’s not entitled to do as an insolvent. The SA Jewish Report has a list of payments made.

The SA Jewish Report has read reams of transcribed WhatsApp voice notes from Levick to Cheryl and her daughter, Loreen Asher, in which he talks about their “growing investments”, never once providing a statement or proof thereof.

He gave numerous excuses as to why he hadn’t made payments, promising to do so, but continuing to obfuscate, delay, and dishonour all his payment obligations.

In November 2021, Levick suggested they seek mediation to resolve the tension that had arisen. He suggested a number of mediators, one of which was the Beth Din.

A meeting was held at the Beth Din on 22 November 2021 followed by the signing of a settlement agreement on 2 December 2021 in which Levick and his mother agreed to pay the Michels their original capital investment of R3 095 000 by 12 December.

The settlement agreement, which the SA Jewish Report has in its possession, states, “There will be no excuses tolerated as to why the payment is delayed.”

Levick was aware that he was forbidden from entering an agreement as an insolvent without the permission of the trustees of his insolvent estate.

To date, the Michels have received only R140 000 since the signing of the settlement agreement.

They have been left with no choice but to institute legal proceedings against Levick and Lois Cherie Levick in the desperate hope of recovering some of their money.

Levick’s attorney, Anthea Denton, told the SA Jewish Report that Levick was “ambushed” by the Michels and the Beth Din, and had signed the agreement under “duress”.

She said the settlement agreement was between Mrs Levick and the Michels. “As an insolvent, Martin Levick cannot enter into an agreement,” she said. The agreement was therefore void ab initio (has no legal effect from inception) as her client was an unrehabilitated insolvent and the Beth Din may have “induced” him to sign it.

“A formal meeting was held after which Martin Levick and his mother signed a settlement agreement before the Beth Din acknowledging his debt to the Michels and confirming his obligations in writing,” said legal advisor Steven Weinberg, who assists the Beth Din with difficult disputes. “When he breached his agreement, the Beth Din approached him multiple times by phone and in writing.”

When asked about Levick signing the agreement “under duress”, Weinberg said, “I wasn’t present at the meeting, but I find that impossible to believe.”

Rabbi Shmuel Slasky, the Beth Din’s rabbinical director, said, “There was no duress whatsoever. This is a heart-breaking, terrible situation which the Beth Din has taken very seriously and is at pains to see resolved. The Michels have lost their life savings.”

He said the Beth Din had encouraged the Michels to bring an application to the High Court.

Attorney for the Michels, Jeff Afriat, of Edelstein, Farber, Grobler Incorporated, told the SA Jewish Report, “EFG Incorporated represents various clients who collectively have claims against Genesis Capital [in business rescue]. In the Michels’ case, I confirm that both criminal and civil proceedings will be instituted shortly against Levick, his mother, Mrs Lois Cherie Levick, and all other persons involved.”

Mrs Levick’s attorney, Fatima Samnakay, did not comment at the time of going to print.

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