$1m thief gets time

A former real estate agent who pleaded guilty to stealing over $1 million from trust funds of property owners has been handed down her prison sentence.

As reported previously by Real Estate Business, The Strata Agency, a strata management company that collected levies from about 5,500 landlords in 240 Sydney apartment and commercial buildings, came under investigation by NSW Fair Trading last year over alleged irregularities in its business dealings.

The founder and managing director of the company, Rachael Kwawegen, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison and a non-parole period of nine months.

Ms Kwawegen was a real estate agent for 15 years before founding The Strata Agency, and championed a ‘boutique’ style of management by undercutting competitors, paying staff overs and targeting some of Sydney’s most prestige apartments.

Magistrate Bruce Williams said, however, that behind the scenes her personal spending had been "out of control".

It was heard in the Parramatta Local Court that Ms Kwawegen used the cash she scammed from her landlords’ trust fund monies to put a deposit down on a house, buy cars and support a lifestyle she could not afford.

The apartment owners were not left out of pocket by the scam, with the NSW Department of Fair Trading compensating them through a property fund made up of licence fees and interest bonds.

Defence lawyer Danny Eid said Ms Kwawegen's business had grown so quickly, she was unable to manage it properly.

In addition, she had for a long time suffered "a serious and significant chronic depression".

Mr Williams said he took into account that Ms Kwawegen had pleaded guilty to the theft and showed remorse.

However, he said she needed to be punished - society needed to see that as a deterrent and the community had to be recompensed.

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