An ice-using Melbourne real estate agent misappropriated more than $6 million from clients because of a psychotic disorder, his psychiatrist says.
Tri Duc Ngo, also known as Joseph Ngo, has pleaded guilty to 48 charges over the misuse of $6.49 million from trust accounts linked to six LJ Hooker branches that he used to run in Melbourne’s east.
Ngo has also pleaded guilty to seven charges of obtaining a beneficial interest in a property after getting employees to buy properties that their office were selling.
He faces up to 10 years in prison for his crimes, but his psychiatrist Matt Gelman believes a jail term would be detrimental to Ngo’s mental health.
Dr Gelman said the 37-year-old suffers from ongoing psychosis and a schizoaffective disorder which led him to believe taking the money was “a good thing for him to do”.
“He felt that there was some higher or religious or some type of reason for him, that taking the money appeared rational or even redemptive,” he told the Victorian County Court on Thursday.
Ngo was charged with 188 offences by Consumer Affairs Victoria in January before he pleaded guilty to a reduced number of charges.
Ngo operated six LJ Hooker branches at Glen Waverley, Box Hill, Burwood, Doncaster, Keysborough and Mount Waverley with his wife Truc Thanh Le “Judy” Nguyen.
On April 6, 2016 Westpac notified Consumer Affairs Victoria about irregularities in the agency’s bank accounts. The bank said the real estate agency’s trust account was overdrawn by $159,590.
An independent auditor also contacted the regulator to report concerns about the business, which was trading as JNT Law Investments Pty Ltd.
Two weeks later JNT suddenly closed its offices and removed all of its computer equipment.
Business records showed numerous transfers between the agency’s trust account – where money from the rental or sale of properties is held – and its general account.
Some of the money that Ngo transferred was used at Swarovski and Tiffany and Co stores, or withdrawn as cash.
Dr Gelman says Ngo told him some of the money was used to buy methamphetamine, ice, heroin, and marijuana.
“Even though he presents reasonably well in his appearance and in his speaking, he has ongoing, severe and disabling psychotic experiences which very much affect his pattern of thinking, living and his judgment,” the psychiatrist said.
Judge Michael Bourke has ordered Ngo undergo another psychological assessment before sentencing.
Ngo will remain on bail and return to court at a date to be fixed.