Former real estate agent imprisoned for gambling trust account money
3 March 2017
A former Inala real estate agent was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment by the Brisbane Magistrates Court today (3 March 2017), following an Office of Fair Trading (OFT) investigation.
Thien Dinh Chau, known as Tony Chau, was found guilty on criminal charges relating to unauthorised use, withdrawal and misappropriation of rent monies. He was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment, with a minimum term of 15 months. If Chau was to reoffend within five years, he would serve the full four year sentence imposed by the Court.
Mr Chau was the principal agent of Chau Real Estate, before surrendering his licence in June 2014. Mr Chau admitted to taking the money, claiming his business suffered financially in the wake of the Brisbane floods in 2011.
The Court heard Mr Chau misappropriated a total of $237,503.90 in trust money. Instead of paying property owners the rent money owing to them, he spent the money on office and personal expenses, including gambling at various Queensland casinos.
The OFT’s investigation commenced after receiving several complaints from owners whose rental properties were managed by Chau. The affected consumers noticed thousands of dollars in rent money not making it to their bank accounts, resulting in the OFT freezing Mr Chau’s real estate agency’s trust account and seizing his records as evidence.
In sentencing, the Court heard Mr Chau withdrew significant amounts of money from his agency’s trust account, using it to gamble and pay his own mortgage. The Court also heard that consumers who actually received their rent monies had, at times, waited up to 10 months.
The Court acknowledged Mr Chau’s claim he suffered from a depressive disorder, however said Mr Chau abused his position of trust for his own purposes, deliberately falsified records to try to prevent detection of his offending, and only ceased his offending behaviour when complaints were made, and the OFT intervened.
Fair Trading Executive Director Brian Bauer said Mr Chau showed a complete lack of regard for the property owners’ financial livelihood.
“This type of behaviour is not only financially detrimental to the property owners, but also significantly undermines the credibility of the vast majority of agents who work ethically and lawfully within the real estate industry,” Mr Bauer said.
“Trust money can only be accessed in limited circumstances, and gambling, personal or office use, or propping up a failing business certainly don’t qualify.
“The message from the Court today should serve as an extremely strong deterrent for any would-be offenders.”
Anyone who believes a real estate agent may have misappropriated trust money is encouraged to lodge a complaint and provide available evidence to the OFT at www.qld.gov.au/fairtrading.