An "inept" real estate agent has been jailed for three months over trust account fraud relating to his Cobden business.
David Steel, 57, now of Vietnam, and his company Realestate Property Pty Ltd, pleaded guilty in Warrnambool County Court to 37 rolled-up charges, including fraud-related offences and trust account deficiencies.
The charges relate to Steel's time as director of the real estate company.
Steel and the company also pleaded guilty to a summary offence of failing to lodge rental bonds within 10 days of the receipt.
Judge Michael O'Connell said Steel's business approach was "inept and cavalier".
But, he said the offending occurred during a breakdown of Steel's marriage and in circumstances where Steel lacked the capacity to cope.
Steel was jailed for three months and ordered to be of good behaviour for a period of two years upon his release.
Realestate Property Pty Ltd was fined $10,000.
The judge said between January 2015 and July 2016, Steel and his company didn't operate a statutory trust account despite receiving rental payments totalling $300,000 for landlords of at least 34 different properties.
He said on no less than 1024 occasions Steel failed to deposit those funds into a statutory trust account, creating a deficiency.
The funds were instead transferred into the business' general trading or cheque accounts.
The judge said one example of the offending related to a Timboon property, where between May 2015 and July 2016, 53 rental payments totalling $13,230 were made to the company but not deposited into the appropriate account.
He said a cheque account was later converted into a statutory account but Steel continued to use it to deposit personal money.
The judge said when Steel, a former farmer, first opened the real estate business he wasn't required to manage money to a great degree and was able to relate to farmers' needs when buying and selling properties.
But, when Steel opened the business up to rental properties, he was incapable or unmotivated to implement the more vigorous procedures required.
He said Steel opened an office in Warrnambool, locking himself into a four-year lease with expensive overheads.
"Your previously successful business struggled to make ends meet," he said.
Judge O'Connell said after a bitter divorce, Steel was forced to sell his matrimonial property but when the sale was delayed, funds could not be used to satisfy his debts.
He noted restitution had since been made in full, albeit with the help of Steel's sister.
He said a retired colleague confirmed in a character reference Steel's community mindedness and exemplary hard work prior to 2014.
Judge O'Connell said he accepted lawyer Michael Turner's statement that Steel had failed his professional duties, rather than betrayed them.
He said Steel was remorseful and well placed to put the matter behind him and re-build his life.
Under Victorian laws, an estate agent has strict obligations to deposit clients' money into a relevant trust account.
Consumer Affairs Victoria director Sam Jenkin said the sentence sent a strong message that estate agents must be diligent in their dealings with trust account and bond money.
"If estate agents do the wrong thing, they will be caught and will face the full force of the law," he said.
"This is a significant outcome that sends a firm message to estate agents that they must meet their responsibilities.
"The Victorian community, and all honest estate agents, rely on Consumer Affairs taking action against those that break the law."
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