PHOTO: Property Management. FILE
In an unprecedented legal development in Western Australia, a former property manager from North Perth has been convicted of illicitly siphoning over $140,000 from trust accounts, resulting in a sentence of more than 12 months in jail.
This groundbreaking case marks a significant milestone in Western Australia’s legal landscape, as a former North Perth real estate property manager has been found guilty of embezzling over $140,000 from trust accounts and has been sentenced to over a year in prison.
Consumer Protection Commissioner Trish Blake, who spearheaded the legal proceedings under the Real Estate and Business Agents (REBA) Act, emphasized that this custodial sentence serves as a clear indication of Consumer Protection’s unwavering commitment to safeguarding the Western Australian community.
Ms. Blake stated, “This case sends a resounding message to both the industry and the community. Consumer Protection will not hesitate to take action, and the courts will not tolerate actions such as the unauthorized withdrawal of client funds from an agent’s trust account. Be forewarned: Consumer Protection is fully prepared to take action within the real estate and settlement sectors, even if it results in imprisonment. If you misappropriate funds that do not belong to you, jail is a very real possibility.”
Linda Margaret Ngapera, who had been employed by a North Perth real estate agency for a decade, admitted to making 141 unauthorized withdrawals from client trust accounts, amounting to $140,744.37, between 2020 and 2022. On October 3, 2023, she pleaded guilty to all 141 charges in the Magistrates Court of Western Australia and received a sentence of one year and one month in prison, in addition to court costs amounting to $716.30.
Magistrate Sullivan decided to suspend the jail term for two years, taking into account Ms. Ngapera’s early admission of guilt and the fact that “the funds were not withdrawn for leisure or luxury but were used to address challenging family circumstances.” Ms. Ngapera has also committed to repaying the entire sum to the real estate agent.
Prior to January 1, 2020, the penalty for such offenses in Western Australia was a maximum fine of $3,000. In light of the significant impact of this type of illegal activity on both the clients of an agency and the agents themselves, Consumer Protection sought approval from the Western Australian Parliament to increase this penalty to either a fine of $25,000 or a two-year prison term.
Commissioner Blake noted that while Consumer Protection had previously brought similar cases to court, this case marked the first instance of imprisonment since the 2020 amendments to the REBA Act.
“Ms. Ngapera held a position of trust and shamelessly betrayed that trust,” Ms. Blake remarked. “Her actions also placed the agent in a precarious financial situation, as they had to reimburse the missing funds to restore the trust account’s balance, ensuring that clients were not adversely affected by her misconduct.”
“While it is regrettable that Ms. Ngapera resorted to taking money that did not belong to her during trying family circumstances, this does not excuse her actions. The courts have concurred that this kind of wrongdoing warrants a prison sentence. I am pleased that the courts have taken such decisive action, which will serve as a strong deterrent against similar breaches of trust in the future.”
Ms. Ngapera has voluntarily relinquished her sales representative registration.