Former Ballarat estate agent Richard Hayden faces court over embezzlement

A lawyer representing a former Ballarat estate agent charged with fraud said his client was ashamed of his actions, which claimed many out of pocket and derailed his family business.

Richard Michael Hayden, 56, admitted transferring more than $770,000 from Skyline Developments, trading as Hayden Real Estate, to his own accounts through 98 transfers in the 12 months from January 2018.

Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) discovered the breach in 2019 after receiving five customer complaints about unpaid deposits.

Hayden faced Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Monday, where his lawyer filed an application for summary jurisdiction.

He argued that the Magistrates’ Court had the power to deal with the case rather than transfer it to a higher court.

But the prosecution disagreed, saying the offense was too serious and should be heard in county court where sentencing powers were higher.

The court heard Hayden falsify statements and bank statements requested during the CAV investigation and the company was ultimately ordered to cease operations in 2019.

Hayden was charged with fraudulently converting funds for his own use, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

He was also charged with two counts of causing a shortfall in trust funds totaling more than $1.5 million.

Hayden pleaded guilty to all three counts in May.

Suffering from “crushing stress”

His grandfather founded Hayden Real Estate in Ballarat in 1929.

Hayden took over the family business in the 1990s from his father who was dying of leukemia.

The court heard Hayden had no criminal history and was known for his “exemplary character”.

His lawyer said Hayden was suffering from immense anxiety, depression and stress at the time of the offense and had fallen into “poor judgment and loss of control”.

The court heard that Hayden’s wife was diagnosed with cancer in 2003, relapsed in 2017 and died in January 2019, and during that time Hayden was struggling to manage a large debt.

His attorney said Hayden kept his issues to himself, wanting his wife to be free from stress during her illness, and it was against this backdrop that the offense unfolded.

“Since the offense, he has accepted responsibility for his actions, sought psychological help, shown genuine remorse and demonstrated his understanding of the seriousness,” he said.

“It has caused him hardship, loss of career, loss of a long-standing family business and loss of reputation in a relatively small community where he is well known.”

Approximately $300,000 outstanding

The prosecution said several victims suffered financial losses, and while some were reimbursed, approximately $300,000 remained unpaid.

He said Hayden’s offense was serious, planned, prolonged over a long period of time and damaged the reputation of the real estate industry.

Magistrate Stephen Ballek denied the defense’s summary jurisdiction application and ordered the case to be heard in County Court in June next year.

Hayden will remain in the community on bail, living in Torquay, pending the next court hearing.

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