Friday, 22 August 2008

Real estate agent jailed

A Melbourne real estate agent who, through "breathtaking greed", duped an elderly man into selling his property to him for half its value has been jailed for two years.

John Michael Talia, 53, was found guilty earlier this month of obtaining property by deception in a case which a consumer advocate says should have hundreds of "dodgy" real estate agents quivering in their shoes.

The Victorian County Court heard that in 2002, Talia bought a home in Melbourne's Burwood East belonging to Antonino Carbone for $150,000, but it was later independently valued at $300,000.

Consumer advocate Neil Jenman said the incidence of real estate agents buying undervalued properties was rife in the residential market.

Estate agent employees are banned by the industry from purchasing any real estate which their company is commissioned to sell.

Mr Jenman said that charging offenders with obtaining property by deception was the appropriate deterrent.

"If every agent was prosecuted for what John Talia has done, there would be hundreds of real estate agents in prison with him today," he said.

"This is one of the most common crimes in real estate.

"It will have dodgy real estate agents all over Australia quivering in their shoes tonight."

Judge Michael Bourke said Talia, who has worked in real estate for 20 years, was callous.

"You cheated two vulnerable people of the large part of the real value of an elderly man's home," he said in sentencing Talia.

"You did that motivated by breathtaking greed.

"You had callous, almost brutal disregard for ... Antonino Carbone.

"It was outrageously immoral behaviour."

When Mr Carbone, who was in his 80s, moved to a nursing home in 2001, his friend Stella Garretto acted on his behalf to lease his home.

After receiving advice from Talia and his wife Sue at their Ray White Real Estate franchise in Doncaster East, Ms Garretto spent $20,000 of Mr Carbone's money on renovations and the property was let.

The following year, when Ms Garretto told the agency Mr Carbone had decided to sell the property, Sue Talia said her husband might be interested in buying it.

Judge Bourke said Talia instructed a long-term associate to issue an appraisal valuing the house at $135,000 to $155,000 without viewing the property.

Talia bought the house on July 1, 2002, but after Mr Carbone died in 2003 his solicitors detected anomalies with the sale.

Judge Bourke said Ms Garretto had trusted Talia as she was not sophisticated in real estate matters.

"She trusted you," he said in sentencing Talia.

"You exploited her."

Ray White Victoria chief executive Andrea McNaughton said the company terminated Talia's franchise agreement when the allegations arose in 2003.

"It's a terrific outcome today because this sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable and that's why we terminated his agreement," Ms McNaughton said.

Talia, his wife and daughter have since run a Stockdale and Leggo real estate agency in Doncaster East.

The Real Estate Institute of Victoria said all businesses had a responsibility to treat clients fairly.

"Anyone who takes unfair advantage of a client, irrespective of what business they are in should expect to face the consequences," chief executive Enzo Raimondo said.

Judge Bourke sentenced Talia to a total of three years in jail with 12 months suspended for a period of three years.

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