Richard Michael Hayden

PHOTO: Richard Michael Hayden

A former Ballarat real estate agent has learnt he will likely received a prison sentence, after admitting to embezzlement of business money to fund a good end to life for his wife who was dying of cancer.

Richard Michael Hayden, 56, was the sole director of long-time family business Hayden Real Estate, which closed in 2019 after operating in Ballarat for 90 years.

Prosecutor Ruth Hamnett described Hayden’s offending as a “spectacular lapse of judgement” during a period of intense depression and stress, but emphasised dozens of victims suffered as a result of his actions.

Hayden’s withdrawal of almost $770,000 from business to personal accounts over 98 transactions in 2018 and 2019 left insufficient funds for the company to pay clients’ deposits for the sale of their homes.

Seventy-six clients made claims to the Victorian Property Fund (VPF) after failing to receive their deposit payments from Hayden Real Estate in 2018 and 2019.

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“It is a gross breach of trust and for the offender, it is a significant fall from grace,” Ms Hamnett said.

Criminal decisions

Hayden pleaded guilty to two rolled-up charges of allowing deficiencies in real estate trust accounts and one charge of wrongful conversion of business money to personal accounts, during a hearing at the County Court in Melbourne on Monday.

The outside of the County Court of Victoria building.
Richard Michael Hayden’s plea hearing was heard in the County Court in Melbourne.()

The court heard Hayden used the fraudulently obtained business money to fund luxury holidays, entertainment, clothing and medical costs, much of which defence barrister Ian Hill KC said was for his wife before she died in January 2019 of inoperable breast cancer.

Judge Marcus Dempsey acknowledged Hayden had been a trustworthy and law-abiding real estate agent for 20 years prior and it was clear the offending was linked to his highly depressed and stressed state amid the “bleak” circumstances.

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“It is very hard to ignore the fact the only time your client deviates from a lawful and decent path of life culminates with the terminal illness and death of his wife,” he said.

“He did everything he could to shield his dying wife from the true state of the financial affairs of the business to make her not worry.”

All clients paid out

Consumer Affairs Victoria began investigating financial affairs at Hayden Real Estate after receiving complaints from clients in late 2018.

The court heard Hayden tried to cover up deficiencies in trust accounts by falsifying bank documents, but he was unsuccessful in the cover-up and his real estate licence was cancelled in June 2019.

Outside the front of Hayden Real Estate shopfront in Ballarat.
Hayden Real Estate had operated in Ballarat since the 1920s, before closing in 2019.()