Warilla agent feeds $10.1m into pokies

A Warilla real estate agent has confessed to fleecing cash from her company’s trust funds to subsidise a multimillion-dollar gambling habit.

Megan Harrod admitted to stealing from her company Harrods Real Estate between 2010 and 2012, pouring the cash into poker machines at Wests Illawarra and the Shellharbour Club.

NSW Fair Trading alleges the total amount taken was more than $1.5 million, however Harrod’s lawyer yesterday indicated she disputed that amount.

Records from both clubs, obtained by Fair Trading, revealed Harrod gambled $10.1 million on poker machines over about a seven-year period, including the years she was swindling from the company.

The records show Harrod won a combined $9.1 million during the same period.

Her fraudulent run was eventually halted by her father, Jim Harrod, who reported his daughter’s crimes to Fair Trading in early 2012.

The family has since repaid almost two-thirds of the outstanding money.

Harrod pleaded guilty in Wollongong Local Court yesterday to two charges of fraudulently converting money as a licensee, relating to $1.46 million taken from the agency’s rent trust account and $65,500 taken from the sales trust account.

It was also revealed in court yesterday that this was not Harrod’s first such offence, with the 49-year-old having previously had her real estate licence disqualified for three years for misappropriating trust account funds.

The maximum penalty for such offences is 10 years’ jail.

The court heard Harrod wove a complex web of fake transactions and falsified bank reports in order to cover her tracks.

As a director of the company who oversaw the day-to-day running of the office as well as heading up the rental department, Harrod was the sole signatory to the rent account, and shared co-signing authority with her brother on the sales account.

This access allowed Harrod to pull money out of the accounts on multiple occasions for her own use.

A set of facts tendered to the court after Harrod’s guilty plea said the 49-year-old ‘‘falsified various corporate book-keeping records’’ in order to disguise and hide the fraud.

Prosecutors said she also manipulated the company’s monthly account reconciliation in order to ‘‘give the false appearance the accounts were balanced’’.

‘‘It would appear [Harrod] may suffer from a gambling addiction, or at least come within the definition of suffering from problem gambling,’’ prosecution documents read.

‘‘It is believed [Harrod] used the misappropriated funds to finance her poker machine gambling.’’

An external manager was appointed to oversee the company in September 2012, after which Fair Trading brought in a forensic accountant to examine the books. He established that Harrod had taken a combined total of $1,534,623 from the accounts.

The court heard a compensation fund set up under legislation governing real estate agents had already paid out $327,000 of the almost $450,000 in claims it had received as a result of the fraud. The Harrod family has also repaid $982,000.

The court heard Harrod was banned in 2011 from holding a real estate licence or being involved in the real estate business for 15 years.

She was ordered to appear in Parramatta District Court on February 14 for sentencing.

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