A real estate agency manager recently jailed for fraud has been ordered to pay $10,000 in fines and costs for taking more than $220,000 of clients’ money from trust accounts.
At Perth Magistrates Court on 18 March 2020, 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 in 2015.
Mr Vecchio’s former business, Austpride Pty Ltd (in liquidation), which traded as Real Estate Masters of Cannington, was fined $7,500 in August 2018 for the same offences following an investigation by Consumer Protection WA.
At that time, the charges against Mr Vecchio were put on hold due to a separate criminal matter involving fraud, which concluded at the District Court this month with a prison sentence of two-and-a-half years.
In relation to the trust account offences, Perth Magistrates Court was told that Mr Vecchio withdrew funds 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 and the affected clients were not repaid by the agency.
Mr Vecchio also failed to ensure that the trust accounts were balanced at the end of each month as required by law.
He was fined $8,000 and must also pay costs of $2,209.
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,” Ms Lipscombe 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.”
See the Consumer Protection website at www.consumerprotection.wa.gov.au