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Noosa resident letting agent caught taking almost $300,000 in trust money

22 April 2021

A former Noosa resident letting agent was sentenced in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on 16 April 2021 after charges were brought by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) for wrongfully using trust money.

Emma Lillian Horton, a director of Wilton Resort Management Pty Ltd, pleaded guilty to a charge of dishonestly converting trust money to her own use.

Ms Horton, charged conjointly with Wilton Resort Management Pty Ltd, was sentenced to six months imprisonment wholly suspended for two years and disqualified from holding a real estate licence for two years. A conviction was recorded.

Wilton Resort Management Pty Ltd was fined $2,000 and no conviction was recorded.

The court heard that between 2 January 2019 and 31 October 2019 Ms Horton, who managed the letting of holiday accommodation, dishonestly converted almost $300,000 from the corporation’s trust account. This money was subsequently reimbursed into the trust account and disbursed to the owners.

In late October 2019 another director of Wilton Resort Management noticed some irregular transactions from the trust account and appointed an accountant to audit the account.

Irregularities were identified in the audit and Wilton Resort Management Pty Ltd made a decision to notify the OFT about the issue.

An OFT investigation found there were unauthorised transactions from the trust account totalling $294,450.

The money had been transferred from the trust account to the business bank account and Ms Horton’s personal account.

Fair Trading Executive Director Brian Bauer said that real estate agents must not misuse trust money.

“Agents know that money held in a trust account does not belong to them and that it must only be disbursed to the person entitled to it,” Mr Bauer said.

“This type of conduct will not be tolerated and the OFT will continue to investigate allegations of real estate agents who spend money that doesn’t belong to them.”

The OFT’s Trust accounts guide is a handy booklet summarising agents’ trust account obligations and contains important information for auditors.

Anyone who has concerns about real estate trust account anomalies or misappropriation of trust account funds should lodge a complaint with the OFT online at https://www.qld.gov.au/law/fair-trading or by calling 13 QGOV (13 74 68).