A Sydney commercial real estate agent has received a one-year jail sentence after stealing over $800,000 from the company's trust account.
Patrick Scott, former principal of LJ Hooker Surry Hills, was sentenced on Wednesday in Parramatta Local Court to 16 months' jail, with a non-parole period of one year.
Mr Scott was also ordered to pay $746,841.95 to the NSW Property Services Compensation Fund, and pay NSW Fair Trading’s professional costs of $3,500 and court costs of $162.
According to reports from NSW Fair Trading, Mr Scott was using the money he stole from his company's trust account to feed his gambling addiction. One Sportingbet account statement showed Mr Scott had bet sums as large as $77,000 in a single day and sustained a net loss over two years of $518,788.
Mr Scott was the sole signatory on the trust accounts.
Fair Trading commissioner Rod Stowe has welcomed the successful prosecution of Mr Scott.
“Millions of homeowner and landlord dollars go through trust accounts every year and consumers have the right to have their investments being held in trusts by agents kept safe,” he said.
“Mr Scott abused this position of trust by dipping into trust accounts containing hundreds of thousands of dollars belonging to his clients.”
LJ Hooker has also condemned the actions of Mr Scott. According to a spokesperson from LJ Hooker Corporate, Mr Scott was terminated from the company straight away and is in no way at all associated with the real estate network.
"The Surry Hills office was an independently-owned and operated franchise," it said.
"LJ Hooker terminated the franchise agreement held by CBD Commercial Pty Ltd, due to a fundamental breach of this agreement. In the time following the termination, LJ Hooker worked closely with the NSW Office of Fair Trading and their appointed administrator to ensure that customers of the business were supported."
Director of Melbourne-based Thomson Real Estate told Real Estate Business’ sister publication, Residential Property Manager recently that in order to limit trust account issues, there should be a number of people involved in a transaction.
“There are multiple people involved in the transactions, rather than just one person who is ticking off that it has been received into the trust account,” he said.
The company use three levels of checking to ensure their trust account operations are always kept up to date and within legal perimeters.
The story has been widely covered by mainstream media, appearing online in the Sydney Morning Herald, Ninemsn, The Daily Telegraph and The Australian.