A former Melbourne real estate agent-turned-preacher has been jailed for stealing clients’ deposits as part of a scam with her husband.
Dodgy realtor Truc Thanh Nguyen, also known as Judy Nguyen, pleaded guilty to misusing more than $800,000 of clients’ money.
The 44-year-old ex-LJ Hooker franchisee admitted moving deposit money from a trust account in early 2016, telling vendors there were accounting issues.
“This was a serious failure in trust,” County Court Judge Michael Bourke said while handing down the sentence on Tuesday.
“These are not just financial transactions for many people.”
When money became available it was moved back into the trust account as part of the “ponzi-style scheme” operated with her husband, the judge said.
Nguyen’s business partner and husband, Joseph Ngo, started the scam in 2015 and was jailed for three years for stealing more than $2.3 million from victims.
Ngo used the cash to support his heavy drug habit, estimating he spent $300,000 on ice alone. He also splurged on clothes and jewellery.
“This scheme had some sophistication, was dishonest behaviour and ultimately the aim was your benefit,” Judge Bourke told Nguyen.
The couple were caught after Victoria’s consumer watchdog uncovered financial irregularities and consumer complaints were made.
Affected vendors were compensated from the Victorian Property Fund.
“We have approved 62 Victorian property fund claims to consumers totalling more than $2.1 million out of this process,” Consumer Affairs Victoria director Samuel Jenkin told reporters after the sentencing.
“Nine of those claims were from vendors for sales deposits and 51 of those claims with landlords from paid rental monies.”
The money paid by the fund has since been recovered from the Nguyen and Ngo’s businesses.
“Today’s court outcome sends a strong message that an officer in effective control of an estate agency must be diligent in their duty and if breaches of the estate agents act occur, they will not be dealt with lightly,” Mr Jenkin said.
The judge took into account Nguyen’s lack of prior criminal history, how difficult prison would be for the mother-of-four and her previous good character.
She has been studying theology and working as a preacher several times a month, the court was told.
Nyugen was jailed for 20 months and must serve at least eight months in prison before she is eligible for release on parole.
She was also ordered to pay a $1500 fine.
source: AAP 2019