Mystery billionaire was contacted to help real estate agent
A FORMER luxury real estate agent, who misused more than $1 million worth of trust money, attempted to borrow $4 million from an unnamed Byron Bay billionaire to fix the problem, a court has heard.
Nicolette van Wijngaarden, 45, earlier this year pleaded guilty to two charges relating to the fraudulent misuse of money from her time running the now defunct high-end real estate agency Unique Estates, which was based in Byron Bay, Sydney and Melbourne.
The charges relate to misusing over $1 million in rent money and misusing funds from the sale of a property on the NSW North Coast, according to previous media reports.
Van Wijngaarden had originally faced several more charges relating to her time at the helm of the real estate agency, but these were withdrawn and dismissed at an earlier appearance.
At a sentencing hearing on Friday in the NSW District Court, Van Wijngaarden said she started Unique Estates from scratch in 2009, but ran into trouble several years later because of cash flow problems and the "seasonality" of the north coast property market.
On the witness stand, Van Wijngaarden told the court that she tried "everything she could" to turn the business around, before misusing clients' trust money.
This included in January 2018 taking steps to cut costs by closing the company's office in Sydney's exclusive Walsh Bay, sacking a sales manager and her marketing team and getting rid of executive assistants, the court heard.
It also included flying to Byron Bay to attempt to borrow $4 million from an unnamed billionaire whom Van Wijngaarden described as an "acquaintance", the court was told.
"I tried so hard to get the business to a point where it wasn't cashflow strapped constantly, I felt huge responsibility to all my staff and clients," she said.
"I tried everything I could and I was literally working 20 hours per day to get the money to fix the problem.
"I genuinely thought I could put it (the money) back ... I would never have done it if I thought I was putting anyone's money at risk.
"I'm telling the court I made some bad decisions."
The court heard Van Wijngaarden later handed herself into NSW Fair Trading in an attempt to "own" her actions, giving authorities access to the real estate agency's computer passwords, phones and accounts.
At times choking back tears, Van Wijngaarde described herself as "completely devastated" and "horribly and disgracefully sad and sorry" for her previous misdeeds.
"I don't have any assets at all, I have a few hundred dollars in the bank," she added.
In its submissions, the prosecution said the only question to be answered was "how long and how any term of imprisonment will be served".
"Every dollar that the offender took from a trustee was a dollar she need not spend from her own pocket," the crown prosecutor told the court.
The charges against Van Wijngaarden carry a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment.
She will be sentenced before Judge John Pickering on November 22