A suspended Melbourne real estate agent has lost his inheritance and been jailed after misusing $2 million of clients’ money.
Anthony Vito Brancatella, 43, got over his head in debt and began using money meant for his clients to pay for the running of his business, the County Court of Victoria has heard.
“Your offending can be described as robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Judge Carolyn Douglas said before handing Brancatella a maximum 40 months’ jail.
Consumer Affairs Victoria investigated Brancatella, the former director of McDonald Real Estate in Mulgrave and Wheelers Hill, after clients complained they’d been short-changed or not paid.
The watchdog found 62 breaches between December 2013 and June 2014, which included changing cheques payable to vendors to cash and using that money to prop up the business.
Brancatella also placed cheques payable to a trust account into other accounts.
Judge Douglas said the offending was out-of-character, noting Brancatella was desperate due to the deteriorating position of his business and she accepted he intended to repay each sum.
But it was a deliberate scheme that had breached the trust of his clients.
“Your offending can tarnish all those working in the real estate industry,” she told him.
At Brancatella’s plea hearing last week, the court heard some of his victims had lost sleep or stopped eating because of the ordeal.
Some have received payments from the Victorian Property Fund, more than $500,000 in total, after making claims when Brancatella’s company went into liquidation.
Brancatella has paid back more than $390,000 and the court heard his mother, who owns a number of properties, was planning to refinance to repay the VPF.
It means he won’t receive any inheritance from her and anything left will go to his brother, Judge Douglas said.
She said Brancatella, who pleaded guilty to 62 charges of wrongful conversion and false accounts, had shown remorse and his loss of reputation had affected him.
He will be eligible for parole after serving 20 months.
Consumer Affairs Victoria director, Simon Cohen, said it was critical the community had confidence in how real estate agents dealt with trust money.
“While most estate agents are doing the right thing, CAV will pursue any agent who is not meeting their legal obligations,” he said in a statement.
More than 2000 Victorian real estate agents have trust accounts, usually holding about $1.7 billion at any given time.