Let’s be fair – we all love a good go on the pokies now and again. Enjoyment and responsibility are the keys to success for any Aussie when spinning the reels. But one Parramatta real estate director let her love of poker machines go too far when she began stealing money from the company’s rent and trust funds, then cooking the books to cover it up, all to help feed a gambling addiction.
Two years ago, Megan Ann Harrod held the esteemed position of Director and Company Secretary for Harrods Real Estate (formally J & M Harrod Pty Ltd.) in Warilla, a seaside suburb of NSW’s Shellharbour – that is, until the true story of her treacherous activities came to light.
According to documents from the Parramatta Court, where Ms. Harrod appeared last week, she defrauded her clients out of a staggering $789,000.
The defendant pled guilty on two charges of fraud and misappropriation of funds after using her position as a licensed real estate agent to convert money from the company’s rent trust and sales trust accounts in 2013.
That was the year the office of Fair Trading in NSW conducted a thorough investigation into the real estate company’s accounts, finding multiple discrepancies in the book keeping records. S investigators soon learned, the falsified records were a direct result of Ms. Harrod’s attempts to cover up a multitude of unauthorized withdrawals totaling near $800k.
The court also heard how Ms. Harrod engaged in something known as ‘kite flying’; an activity that occurs when someone illegally manipulates a company’s monthly account balances by drawing checks to record the distribution of fictitious payments, thereby making the corporate books appear to be balanced.
In reality, Ms. Harrod was stealing money each month to fund a compulsive habit for poker machines.
Activity logs from the Western Suburbs Leagues Club Illawarra and Shellharbour Workers Club revealed an inordinate amount of money had been spent by Ms. Harrod on the poker machines during the same time frame in which the real estate company’s books were being cooked.
Fortunately, the south coast real estate director was able to avoid jail time, primarily due to the fact that she had already begun paying back the money prior to her appearance in Parramatta Court. She was instead delivered a sentence of two years, to be carried out by way of an Intensive Corrections Order, which will go into effect on Friday, September 25, 2015.
Ms. Harrod’s real estate license was immediately and permanently revoked by the Fair Trading agency in December 2013 when the allegations first surfaced.
Response from Office of Fair Trading
Rod Stowe, Commissioner of the Fair Trading consumer protection agency, said his office will not relent in the crackdown against serious cases of fraud, like the misappropriation of trust funds by Ms. Harrod.
“Landlords, tenants and home owners are entitled to feel confident the significant sums of money they rely real estate agents to hold in trust for them are kept securely in designated trust accounts and the money used for the intended purposes,” said Mr. Stowe.