A former Glen Waverley estate agent has been sentenced to 20 months in jail, with a minimum term of eight months, after pleading guilty to 11 charges of misusing more than $800,000 of her clients’ money, in breach of the Estate Agents Act 1980 (the Act).
Truc Thanh Le Nguyen (aka Judy Nguyen), 44, operated six LJ Hooker franchises with her ex-husband and business partner, Joseph Ngo, under the name JNT Law Investments Pty Ltd (in liquidation).
Consumer Affairs Victoria took action in the County Court of Victoria, after investigations in 2016 revealed that, among other things, JNT Law Investment’s trust account was overdrawn by more than $150,000. An independent auditor also advised us of trust account irregularities.
Director of Consumer Affairs Victoria, Sam Jenkin, said that this is a firm lesson for all estate agents that they face the real possibility of jail time if they are misusing trust fund money.
“Today’s sentence against Judy Nguyen shows that an officer in effective control of a real estate must be meticulous in their supervision of what is going on in their agency.”
Ms Nguyen pleaded guilty to 11 charges of ‘wrongful conversion’. This involved her taking deposits received from home sales transactions out of the required trust account, and transferring them into JNT’s general account.
For example, on:
- 9 February 2016, Ms Nguyen took $188,800 of deposit money out of the company’s sale trust account, and fraudulently converted it for her own use in a general account
- 10 March and 11 March 2016, she took $159,590 and $82,000 respectively of deposit money out of the company’s sale trust account, and fraudulently converted it for her own use.
The court also found that Ms Nguyen, as the officer in effective control of JNT Law Investments, breached her legal duties in relation to the conduct of Mr Ngo, by not ensuring that other employees of the business were complying with the Act’s provisions.
Ms Nguyen initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, before changing her plea on 27 May 2019.
The Victorian Property Fund (VPF) provides financial compensation to consumers who have been affected by an estate agent’s misuse of money. The VPF has paid out approximately $2.1 million to affected consumers in relation to the conduct of Ms Nguyen and Mr Ngo.
Under Victorian laws, an estate agent has strict obligations to deposit clients’ money into a relevant trust account in certain situations.
Agents may also be held responsible if they do not ensure that other agents or staff at the business do not comply with the law.
Ms Nguyen was also fined $1,500 for her failure as an officer in effective control to properly supervise a licensed estate agency.