The founder of Unique Estates, Nicolette van Wijngaarden, could go to jail for up to 10 years if found guilty. Fifteen charges of fraud have been made against the previously successful real estate agent who ran the luxury brand. Unique Estates opened in Byron Bay in 2009 and quickly expanded to include offices in Albert Park, Double Bay, the Gold Coast, Melbourne, and Hong Kong.
The 44 year old has the fraud charges following the collapse of her national estate agency earlier this year. Currently Ms van Wijngaarden, 44, is on bail and due to appear in Sydney’s Downing Centre local court on November 8. The agency collapsed in February leaving debts of $3.5M. “Bank accounts are frozen and there are no funds,” staff were bluntly told as McGrath Nicol was appointed joint managers by the NSW Department of Fair Trading.
Real estate agents and solicitors are licenced to operate trust accounts under strict guidelines and auditing requirements. It is fraudulent for the licensee of a trust account to access client’s funds to use for personal use. The main debtor is believed to be the Australian Tax Department. Staff, vendors and owners of holiday let properties have also been left being owed money.
A previous case of an estate agent in trouble occurred here in 2011. Sarah Dougan ran an equally successful luxury agency, a Belle Properties franchise office in Fletcher Street Byron Bay. She declared bankruptcy with debts of nearly $30M. She skipped the country and was last heard of selling real estate in los Angeles. The fraud squad is still investigating.
Two agents working for Unique Estates, Gary Brazenor and Denzil Loyd are believed to be owed back wages and commissions. They are both now with Bangalow Real Estate under principal Mary O’conner.