Agent to the stars faces up to 10 years in prison
UNIQUE Estates founder Nicolette van Wijngaarden used to market some of the most luxurious real estate on the Gold Coast and Byron Bay.
Now the 44-year-old faces a lengthy stint in prison after pleading guilty to two charges of fraudulently misusing trust account funds totalling more than $3.6 million dollars. The charges carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
NSW Fair Trading said it is the largest case of real estate fraud it has recorded. The fraud was uncovered by a Fair Trading audit last year in the wake of the agency's collapse.
Van Wijngaarden, whose clients included internationally renowned fashion designer Collette Dinnigan, founded the Byron-based Unique Estates in 2009, opening offices on the Gold Coast, Melbourne, Hong Kong and Byron Bay.
Her listings included ASF's planned luxury apartments in The AU at Surfers Paradise, a waterfront mansion at 30-32 Maryland Ave, Carrara, for offers over $6 million, and historic Byron Bay home Koreelah for $5 million.
Trouble began for van Wijngaarden in February last year when all Unique Estates staff were sacked via email. By June the business was in liquidation owing creditors more than $4 million.
A liquidator's report released in September revealed the business owed the Australian Taxation Office $933,000 and the NSW Office of State Revenue $95,000.
Ms Dinnigan was caught up in the collapse of Unique Estates following the $2.1 million sale of her NSW South Coast property when the five per cent deposit was unaccounted for.
NSW Fair Trading Commissioner Rose Webb said it conducts compliance operation each year aimed at improving standards across the industry.
"Following on from these operations, Fair Trading takes all disciplinary and enforcement action necessary, to ensure that people misusing trust money are adequately punished," Ms Webb said.
"This case should act as a deterrent to all real estate agents - Fair Trading has no tolerance for agents misusing funds or other fraudulent behaviour."
Ms Van Wijngaarden entered a guilty plea to two charges last week at the Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney under the Property, Stock and Business Agents Act 2002 (NSW). One charge related to the misappropriation of sales deposits and the other to the misuse of rental payments by tenants.
The matter returns to court on July 12.