One estate agent jailed another fined

The Office of Fair Trading is pleased with the outcome of proceedings in the Brisbane District Court which resulted in the jailing of Brisbane trust account fraudster Michael Wilkes. Mr Wilkes was sentenced to five years jail in the Brisbane District Court for misappropriating $412,796 from trust accounts while operating inner-city Brisbane real estate agencies.

He was director of Excalibur Property Services P/L, trading as Raine & Horne Ascot and Ivan Lazarou Real Estate, and The Art of Property P/L, trading as Elders Real Estate in New Farm.

A joint investigation by the Office of Fair Trading and Queensland Police Service found Mr Wilkes had illegally removed the funds from two agency trust accounts over the course of a year (1 November 2008 to 11 November 2009) for his own personal use.

The Office of Fair Trading commenced an investigation into the agent in 2009, including a forensic examination of the trust accounts, following complaints from landlord clients.

The matter was referred to the Queensland Police Service which continued the extensive investigation and charged Mr Wilkes with two counts of fraud under the Criminal Code Act 1899.

Mr Wilkes pleaded guilty to both counts and was sentenced to five years imprisonment, to be suspended after 18 months.

Office of Fair Trading executive director Brian Bauer said the Queensland government’s Claim Fund established under the Property Agents and Motor Dealers Act 2000 (Claim Fund) had paid out over $412,000 to 70 affected clients, which Mr Wilkes and Excalibur Property Services P/L was liable to repay.

“The Claim Fund is designed to reimburse clients who have been affected by dishonest or fraudulent real estate agents, and has provided a just result for the clients affected by Mr Wilkes’ fraud,” Mr Bauer said.

“To date we have recovered more than $70,000 of the misappropriated funds and returned it to the Claim Fund. Action to recover further funds is ongoing.”

In another case a Gold Coast real estate company was fined $50,000 in the Brisbane Magistrates Court last week for 231 counts of dishonestly converting trust money to its own use.

Staymint P/L, former operator of Broadbeach building complex Carmel by the Sea, pleaded guilty to wrongfully converting $141,466 in trust money between 1 July 2011 and 1 August 2012.

The court heard Staymint staff booked tenants into rooms in Carmel by the Sea’s letting pool then, after the guest had checked out, changed the records to indicate the guest had stayed in a leaseback unit. This process involved transferring the amount earned from this stay to the company, instead of to the owner of the unit where the tenant had stayed.

The Office of Fair Trading investigated after a unit owner complained he had not received rent from tenants who had signed the guest book in his unit. The OFT executed a search warrant on Staymint’s office, seizing a hard drive and trust account records that showed the company had wrongfully transferred $141,466 to its own account. The court heard Staymint is in the process of repaying the 34 affected unit owners, with $75,000 paid to date.

No conviction was recorded against the company.

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