A prestige property real estate agent has pleaded guilty to two out of 15 counts of fraud offences, following her misuse of more than $3 million.
Director of Unique Estates Nicolette van Wijngaarden was accused of misusing money from her agency’s trust account, to the value of $3.69 million.
Unique Estates was founded by Ms van Wijngaarden in 2009. The business focused on selling luxury properties in the Byron Bay area and had high-profile clients such as Chris Hemsworth and Paul Hogan.
The two counts that Ms van Wijngaarden pleaded guilty to include the misappropriation of sales deposits and the misuse of rental payments by tenants.
She was previously charged with 10 counts of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception and five counts of “licensee fraudulently convert money more than $5,000”, relating to trust money being “converted” for use by a corporation or individual.
According to NSW Fair Trading, which found the fraud following an audit, this matter is the largest case of real estate fraud recorded by the state government organisation.
Fair Trading conducts several compliance operations a year targeted at improving standards across the real estate industry and ensuring individuals within it are complying with their obligations as members.
NSW Fair Trading commissioner Rose Webb said the pleas were a “positive step” in ensuring that the defendant was held legally accountable for the offences.
“Following on from these operations, Fair Trading takes all disciplinary and enforcement action necessary to ensure that people misusing trust money are adequately punished,” Ms Webb said.
“This case should act as a deterrent to all real estate agents — Fair Trading has no tolerance for agents misusing funds or other fraudulent behaviour.”
REB previously reported on the issue, stating that Ms van Wijngaarden’s charges span from May 2016 to February 2018 and relate to high-end properties in NSW, Victoria and Queensland.
The report also mentioned that she was falsely representing that more than $1 million from rental properties would remain in the Unique Estates trust account until the money was paid to the property owners.
Unique Estates went into liquidation in May last year, owing an estimated $4 million to 26 employees and other unsecured creditors.
Ms van Wijngaarden will soon be sentenced in the New South Wales District Court. She could potentially face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.
More to follow.