A Western Australian real estate agency manager has been ordered to pay $10,000 in fines and costs for taking $220,000 of clients’ money from trust accounts.
At Perth Magistrates Court last month, Jason John Vecchio pleaded guilty to 15 breaches of the Real Estate and Business Agents Act for unauthorised withdrawals and mismanagement of the trust accounts back in 2015.
His former business, Austpride Pty Ltd (in liquidation), traded as Real Estate Masters of Cannington.
Austpride Pty Ltd was fined $7,500 in August 2018 for the same offences following an investigation by Consumer Protection WA.
The Perth Magistrates Court was told that Mr Vecchio had withdrawn funds from the trust accounts on several occasions to pay invoices, including family members’ credit card bills, online property advertisements and installation of CCTV at the agency’s Cannington office.
The total amount taken was $220,742.
Consumer Protection WA noted clients were not repaid by the agency.
Following on from the withdrawals, Mr Vecchio also failed to ensure the trust accounts were balanced at the end of the month, as required by law.
Mr Vecchio has been fined $8,000 and must also pay $2,209 in costs.
The state government body noted that the trust account charges against Mr Vecchio had previously been put on hold due to the pending nature of a separate matter that involved fraud.
That matter concluded at the District Court this month, and saw Mr Vecchio imprisoned for two-and-a-half years.
Speaking out about the imposition of the trust account penalty, Commissioner for Consumer Protection Penny Lipscombe said the unauthorised withdrawals were essentially theft: “Trust accounts usually involve large sums of money held on behalf of buyers, tenants and property owners — and these funds are technically owned by the client until they can be correctly dispersed.”
She said Consumer Protection “will continue to take action against real estate industry personnel who breach the strict laws that cover the operation of these accounts”.
“All real estate agencies should ensure that their business practices protect trust account money from theft or misuse,” the commissioner said.