Real estate agent admits lying about scale of alleged fraud
Darwin real estate agent Chris Deutrom has admitted in court he “lied” and “panicked” when confronted by Elders management about redirecting advertising rebates into his personal bank accounts.
- Chris Deutrom denies financial troubles, despite earlier admission
- Redirected rebates used to pay off $19,000 on wife’s credit card, trial told
- Mr Deutrom told jury he was fearful for his livelihood
Mr Deutrom elected to give evidence in his fraud trial to defend accusations he diverted $234,000 in rebates from the NT News and realestate.com.au meant for Elders to his personal accounts because he was in financial trouble.
Prosecutor David Morters SC asked Mr Deutrom about the first phone conversations he had with Elders management, after they discovered a $14,410 rebate had been redirected to Mr Deutrom’s company, Deutrom Pty Ltd.
“I was panicked, at that point I’d worked for 25 years to build an amazing career in real estate,” Mr Deutrom said.
“I’d never had a complaint against me, I was in a state of absolute panic.”
Asked why he changed an agreement so rebates from realestate.com.au would be directed into his personal company account, Mr Deutrom replied: “I was running the business, it was my business, I did it openly”.
He told the court he was “absolutely not” in any financial trouble at the time.
The jury heard this was despite an email referring to his “serious financial trouble” at the time, which he sent to then-Elders northern zone general manager Greg Dunne in late October 2016.
“As discussed, I got myself into serious financial trouble with the house and diverted rebate funds,” he said in the email.
“I think there was about $160,000 and I paid back $14,000 last week… I convinced Helen to put our house on the market in the hope that I could somehow redirect the money to where it should have gone.”
Earlier in the email he said: “I am glad I have now come clean with everything … I am very relieved that I no longer have anything to hide from you or Helen”.
Mr Deutrom told the court that Elders management made him believe he did the wrong thing.
“I was fearful of my job, I was fearful of my livelihood, and yes I lied,” he said.
“At that point I was under the mistaken belief that I’d done the wrong thing.”
Rebates used to pay off wife’s credit card, court told
During cross-examination Mr Morters suggested: “You used $19,000 of the money you got from NT News … to pay off your wife’s credit card”.
“Yes. A joint credit card where she’s the primary card holder, yes I do accept that,” Mr Deutrom replied.
Mr Morters then confirmed with Mr Deutrom that during this period he was building a “substantial” three-storey house at Cullen Bay.
“It’s got an entertainment room with lounge chairs,” Mr Morters said.
Mr Deutrom replied: “It’s for sale at the moment if you want to buy it”.
Mr Deutrom told the court he used the rebate money for “everyday running of the business”, which included buying coffees for staff and clients.
“Did you buy 20,000 coffees sir?” Mr Morters asked.
Mr Deutrom said the Darwin Elders real estate business went from an “absolute mess” and “blood bath” to the best office in Australia with him at the helm.
He told the court he ran the business how he wanted to run it, because he had been given that “autonomy” by Elders management.
“It was my business, I had skin in the game,” he said.
“I did not believe I’d done the wrong thing.”
He then apologised to the court for his “passionate” response.
“You’re not passionate sir, you’re absolutely terrified about being caught out lying aren’t you?” Mr Morters replied.
Mr Deutrom rejected Mr Morters’ suggestion he was a “habitual liar”.
“You don’t lie every time you find yourself in a spot of bother?” Mr Morters asked.
“Not than I’m aware of, no,” Mr Deutrom replied.
Mr Deutrom also told the jury he would do anything for his staff and used the examples of buying a plane ticket for a staff member when they missed their flight and a dress for another staff member when she couldn’t afford one for a work social function.
“This is about my staff, this is about my business, this is about growing everything that I lived for,” he said.
He said he did the same for “whistleblower” Matthew Pullman, who reported his suspicions about the advertising rebate payments to Elders head office.
“I was very, very disappointed in Matthew and that’s why I said that about mateship, Australian mateship, because I had looked after him for three years,” he said.
Mr Deutrom has pleaded not guilty to eight charges of obtaining a benefit by deception.