Company Director of Unique Estates Nicolette van Wijngaarden pictured at one of the properties that she sold, Cedar Springs at Possum Creek.
Company Director of Unique Estates Nicolette van Wijngaarden pictured at one of the properties that she sold, Cedar Springs at Possum Creek. Cathy Adams

How high-flying real estate agent ended up behind bars

SHE was a high-flying luxury real estate agent in Byron Bay, with multi-million dollar properties on her books, but yesterday, she was jailed for more than three years.

Nicolette Van Wijngaarden blamed pressure and stress" for a fraud which saw her clients lose out on millions of dollars in the biggest case brought forward by the NSW Office of Fair Trading.

Unique Estates Company Director Nicolette van Wijngaarden received awards for best real estate agency marketing in Australia and best real estate agency website in Australia at the prestigious Asia Pacific Property Awards in Kuala Lumpur. Photo Contributed
Unique Estates Company Director Nicolette van Wijngaarden received awards for best real estate agency marketing in Australia and best real estate agency website in Australia at the prestigious Asia Pacific Property Awards in Kuala Lumpur. Photo Contributed Contributed

Van Wijngaarden defiantly told her side of the story in the Downing Centre District Court today as she was jailed, revealing why she misused $3.6m of customers' money held in a trust over a two-year period.

She had pleaded guilty to two fraud charges in June and faced a maximum jail term of 10 years for each offence after misusing, in some cases, the life savings of clients who spent years ferrying away tens of thousands for a deposit on a home.

Judge John Pickering has today ordered she be jailed for an aggregate term of three years and six months.

"I have the benefit of hindsight and now I have a lot more clarity," Van Wijngaarden told the court under cross examination.

"When you're under that amount of pressure and stress you make silly decisions, it was clearly a major error of judgment … I was under pressure to keep my clients and staff happy.

"If I wasn't under so much stress there is no way I would have done it, I thought stupidly it would be a temporary thing but unfortunately that was not the case."

Brokering some of the biggest deals at the top end of the real estate industry, Van Wijngaarden's company Unique Estates had offices in Byron Bay, Sydney, Melbourne, the Gold Coast, Brisbane, and Hong Kong before the firm came crashing down.

The 45-year-old said she was "bitterly devastated" after her offending came to light, telling the court "only 85 per cent" of sales were impacted and that she had passed up on $2.4 million of commission in order to turn the business around.

UNIQUE ESTATES: Nicolette van Wijngaarden Photo Christian Morrow / Byron Shire News
UNIQUE ESTATES: Nicolette van Wijngaarden Photo Christian Morrow / Byron Shire News Christian Morrow

Van Wijngaarden's barrister Frank Coyne submitted that she took the money out of desperation to keep the company afloat.

"It was not coloured by anything like gambling or drugs, it was short-term and it was going to be made up," he said.

"She was doing her best to cover the shortfall, she always worked so no one would be out of pocket.

"I'm saying it wasn't greed, I don't think she wanted to give up on a dream of being successful."

Judge John Pickering offered stinging remarks to those submissions when sentencing her today.

"You can't just take people's money without their authority," he said.

"How would anyone survive? How could anyone trust real estate agents? We don't trust them with so much money for them to take it and say 'oh it's okay it'll keep the business running'.

"She had a lifestyle many envied, of high profile and travel."

Van Wijngaarden will be eligible for parole after serving one year and six months of her three year-six month sentence.