Stolen money used for gambling

Megan Harrod with son Jackson Hastings.
Megan Harrod with son Jackson Hastings.

The ex-wife of Roosters great Kevin ''Horrie'' Hastings went on a $10 million poker-machine binge with money she stole from her family's real-estate business, leaving a string of landlords in the Illawarra out of pocket.

Megan Harrod, who is being ''supported'' by scandal-prone NRL player manager Sam Ayoub, siphoned up to $1 million from trust accounts held at J&M Harrod estate agents in the Wollongong area.

Ms Harrod, 48, gambled $10 million in one leagues club alone between 2004 and 2010 but is known to have frequented other clubs and Sydney's Star casino. Her pokie habit averaged $500 in losses every day for seven years.

''I feel ashamed, I'm embarrassed, I'm seeking help, I've just got another job after 8½ months,'' she said.

Ms Harrod, whose son Jackson Hastings is rated as one of the finest young talents in rugby league, will be interviewed by NSW Fair Trading officers on November 27 and is likely to face criminal prosecution.

Fairfax has learnt Ms Harrod accessed an account holding up to $600,000 in rents and another that often held $500,000 from property sales. She shifted money around in a system described as ''robbing Peter to pay Paul''.

Her scam came to light in January this year when another staff member noticed discrepancies. Ms Harrod left the business immediately.

The family has repaid $850,000 to landlords burnt by Ms Harrod but the NSW government's property services compensation scheme will pay out more than $221,000 to 34 victims.

Stephen Harrod, who returned to the Warilla-based company in January, said: ''We know this has caused great harm to our reputations and people are pissed off but it's unfortunate that the innocent people are the ones who are paying the price.''

Wests Illawarra Leagues Club confirmed it holds records that between 2004 and 2010 Ms Harrod's gambling turnover topped $10 million and her losses were close to $1 million.

The club chief executive, Luke Walker, responded to complaints from Mr Harrod that Wests Illawarra did nothing to prevent his sister's destructive gambling spree.

''We recognise it's a substantial amount but she was a well-known, wealthy small-business owner and over the period it's not unfathomable that she spent what she did,'' Mr Walker said.

''We're not in any position to judge where the money is coming from but even if we did think it was suspicious we don't have the means to pursue it. That said, we're devastated to learn of allegations about where the money was coming from.''

Ms Harrod's second marriage to David Wonson, a former Illawarra League player, ended after the scandal broke and locals told FairfaxMs Harrod had recently been seen with Mr Ayoub.

Mr Ayoub, whose list of clients includes Johnathan Thurston, Robbie Farah, Jamie Soward and Willie Mason, is overseeing Jackson Hastings's rise from the Under 16 NSW State of Origin team.

Mr Ayoub has been embroiled in a betting scandal of his own, having beaten charges in May that he took part in the Ryan Tandy Bulldogs-Cowboys match-fixing incident in 2010. NSW Police said it would appeal.

Mr Ayoub said his relationship with Ms Harrod was just business. ''I've known Megan for 20 years, I manage her son,'' he said.

The office of the Fair Trading Minister, Anthony Roberts, will this week launch a crackdown on real-estate agents, saying Ms Harrod's case - which is expected to cost the NSW taxpayer $221,000 in compensation to renters and landlords - was not isolated. Claims under the Property Services Compensation Fund nearly trebled last year from $866,996 to $2,333,961.

Mr Roberts said: ''It's completely unacceptable for real-estate agents to dip into their trust accounts and they face serious penalties for doing so. They could lose their licence, face hefty fines and if found guilty of a criminal offence, end up in jail.''