Convicted fraudster’s photography course far from picture perfect

Mark Townley before and after his latest image change

Mark Townley before and after his latest image change

A man under investigation by the PSNI for an alleged £80k fraud is believed to have set up shop with another scam working out of Belfast within the past number of weeks.

Mark Townley (28) who has previous convictions for fraud in Liverpool, has had no charges brought against him by the PSNI to date.

New pictures obtained by The Detail can reveal he has even had his head and neck tattooed to change his appearance.

Townley previously received a six-month suspended jail term after pleading guilty to 14 counts of deception between May 2004 and May 2006 in Liverpool Crown Court. In 2008 he was accused of operating a modeling ‘scam’ in Dublin claimed to have netted him £750,000.

In September 2010 he hit the headlines once again after his company, National Task Force, was closed down leaving charities throughout Northern Ireland tens of thousands of pounds out of pocket.

Now nine months later, with no charges brought against Townley, one man whose life was completely ruined when he was employed by one of his businesses, is speaking out publicly for the first time and calling on the PSNI to take action before history repeats itself.

In September 2009 Omar Dukali had just graduated from University when he was offered what he thought was an exciting opportunity with Mark Townley’s NTF Company, but all was not as it seemed.

He said: “I’d gone for a job that he’d advertised as communication fundraising manger for NTF, he just played on the fact that I was young and looking for a job to do with my degree and that I was keen to try and make it work as much as possible.

“After the first month my wages were short and after that he conned me into basically selling my car on the promise that he would reimburse me and provide me with a company car, but the company car never came and neither did a reimbursement.

“When things came to a climax and he’d been exposed it had been estimated that he’d got around £14k out of me and my family, and I haven’t seen one cent of that back to this day.”

Now with the latest reports about Townley, Omar has a clear message for the police- ‘the time for talk is over’.

Omar explained: “When I was made aware of this latest scheme involving Townley it actually made me feel physically sick, the fact he’s still able to get away with this.

“To this day I have to borrow money from extended family members just so I can provide for my own family and make it through another month.

“I’m working two jobs, my wife’s working two jobs, just to desperately try and get back to some sort of financial stability.

“I have gave all this information to the police, but all they’ll tell me is that investigations are on-going. My dealing with Mark Townley ruined my life and I believe he needs to be brought before the courts before he ruins anybody else’s. ”

The Detail can reveal that 28-year-old Townley has recently established a photography training agency in south Belfast.

Earlier this month, local employment websites offered a six-month photography intern position with Townley’s company Maria Marx Photography, based on the Dublin Road.

Successful applicants were asked to pay £150 for the training course with the promise of receiving a guaranteed salary when they completed training. We have been contacted by several members of the public who joined Maria Marx Photography. None of the interns have received any payment to date and some are owed up to several weeks wages.

Media design student Claire Betthel gave up a prestigious internship in London to join Townley’s course.

“There was an advertisement on Gum Tree,” she said.

“I applied for it online one night, the next day I got an interview, an hour after the interview I was told that I’d got the job.

“I did think it was a bit strange that it happened so fast, but didn’t think there was anything sinister behind it.

“I was just so happy, so I put forward the money.

“The man, who I would later realise was Mark Townley, conducted the interview.

“He said his name was Mark Hamill and made us all refer to him as ‘Marx’.

“Later on one of the others found a letter in the office addressed to Mark Townley.

“We thought it was strange, but didn’t think too much of it.”

The 20-year-old was joined by 25 other interns, while Townley employed two other personal assistants and two models.

“It wasn’t until we went on a practice photo shoot that we realized things weren’t adding up.

“We all turned up but had to use our own cameras and borrowed equipment.

“The whole thing was just unprofessional; he didn’t really seem to know what he was doing.

“I began to become concerned we were all being fooled.

“I planned to confront him at the class on Monday but he never showed up.

“Then when we Googled Mark Townley on the internet we realised he was the same person, he’d completely changed with all the tattoos but you could still tell it was the same person that was in the news last year.

“We went straight to the police but we’ve heard nothing since.”

Mark Townley

Mark Townley

Police are understood to be investigating claims Townley also failed to pay rent for the offices he was using as a base for Maria Marx Photography on the Dublin Road.

We contacted the Photography Institute, which Townley claimed had accredited his course. They sent us this statement:

“We have been made aware of the con artist ‘Mark Townley’ and his organisation ‘Maria Marx Photography’ by a number of people who have contacted us in the past few weeks. We are not affiliated with Mark Townley and/or his organisation ‘Maria Marx Photography’ and have told them that we will start legal action, if our name, ‘The Photography Institute’ or our course content is used in any way or form.”

Alan Rudd runs his own design company from Belfast. About a month ago he was approached by Townley to design a logo for Maria Marx Photography.

He said: “At first he seemed very professional – he even invited me to call into his studios in Dublin Road anytime I liked.

“I started to get suspicious when I didn’t receive any payment for the design work I had done. When I threatened legal action he paid me £70 in person, but I’m still owed £200.

“Then when I was made aware about his past, I knew then I had been conned.

“I’ve left him a number of messages, but as of this week his phone has went dead and he’s nowhere to be found.

“I suppose the one saving grace is that this time it’s been caught quite early on because he had talked to me about big plans to get all his interns business cards and designing a website.

“All stuff I would have worked on and who knows if I ever would have seen any money for it.”

A PSNI spokesman confirmed detectives had now been asked to investigate an alleged fraud involving a training course in south Belfast.

However the PSNI’s failure to thus far bring charges against Townley is being criticised by one of Northern Ireland’s leading community organisations.

In August 2010 Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Agencies (NICVA) issued a public warning after a number of its community groups were left owing thousands by Townley’s company National Task Force. Advice Manager Neil Irwin believes the time has come to end Townley’s career.

He said: “The police were given dozens of statements and evidence against Townsley last year. But people can’t take civil cases against him to try and recover their money because, as yet, he hasn’t actually been convicted or even charged.

“With the information we’re getting on his latest scheme, it really is a matter of charging him now, getting him before the courts, to see justice done. So the police really need to make this happen so justice can be done for all the people affected.”

The Detail has made concerted efforts to contact Townley but he has so far failed to respond.