Estate agent pleads guilty to fraud after scamming elderly woman out of more than R2m
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Durban - An estate agent, who preyed on an elderly woman’s vulnerability and need to find a suitable home, pleaded guilty to 58 counts of fraud which related to scamming the unsuspecting client into parting with more than R2.1-million, but delivered no house in return.
Martha O’reilly, who worked for Tyson Properties, convinced Pathmavathi Moodley, 74, that she would find an affordable home for her, but enriched herself instead. O’reilly was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on Friday.
Magistrate Fariedha Mohamed, who presided over the matter at the Durban Regional Court, suspended three years of the sentence for a period of five years, provided O’reilly did not commit the same crime during the suspension period.
Moodley called Tyson Properties when she saw an advert in a house magazine, and was put through to O’reilly. While the initial home that O’reilly pointed Moodley to on a Mount Edgecombe gated estate appealed to her, the R3m asking price was out of her range.
O’reilly then promised to find Moodley of Reservoir Hills something affordable.
In doing so, she got Moodley to deposit money into an attorney’s trust account so that funds would be available to land the right buy.
Deposits were made on 58 occasions into the so-called attorney’s account but police investigations revealed it belonged to O’reilly.
The first deposit was in July 2016 and by the time the last deposit was made nearly nine months later,
O’reilly had siphoned R2 129 214 from Moodley’s bank account.
O’reilly is already serving a 5-year sentence in Johannesburg after she was convicted on four counts of fraud, dating to 2013, where she used the same modus operandi to swindle more than R300 000 from clients. She was sentenced in September on those charges.
Magistrate Mohamed did not accede to attorney SW van der Merwe’s (who represented O’reilly) request to have both sentences run concurrently during Friday’s proceedings.
In her plea statement, which was read out by Van der Merwe, O’reilly offered to secure another affordable property for Moodley after the first attempt failed.
She advised Moodley that the money had to be deposited into an attorney’s trust account so that there would be sufficient money to make a purchase.
“But I gave my own personal account details. Initially it was to ensure that there was enough to secure a property but I used the money as my own personal funds.”
O’reilly agreed that 58 deposits were made into her account.
“I admit my actions led her to believe she was depositing to secure a house and I admit my actions caused her prejudice. At the time when I made the misrepresentation, I was aware what I was doing was unlawful.
“I did so to have access to her funds and defraud her while I was aware that I was not going to assist her to secure the house.”
Van der Merwe asked the court to consider O’reilly’s personal circumstances when handing a sentence and said his client turns 70 in December.
He suggested that a sentence of correctional supervision would be more appropriate and that direct imprisonment would have a further devastating impact on her family.
“She deserves punishment, but it doesn’t mean she has to go to jail. What will be achieved?” asked van der Merwe.
“Mrs Moodley has suffered prejudice, but sending the accused to jail won’t alleviate the prejudice,” said Van der Merwe.
State prosecutor Kuveshni Pillay got Moodley to read out a victim impact statement to the court.
“I’m very heartsore and dejected at being scammed. Sometimes I look back and feel so stupid for allowing myself to be easily tricked.”
Moodley said her late husband was a school principal and had well provided for her, but, sadly, it was all stolen from her.
“My husband’s hard-earned money has just vanished.”
Moodley said she has been left homeless and forced to rent, lived on her pension, and her health has deteriorated.
Moodley told of how O’reilly boasted that she only shopped at places like Woolworths, splashed money on expensive gifts, liquor and clothing for her family, but was doing so with her money.
“I seem to have lost all dignity. “Martha O’reilly not only stole my money but she also stole my life.”
Pillay said O’reilly “preyed” on Moodley and no clear reason was given on what happened to the money.
She said O’reilly had shown no remorse and only pleaded guilty because the evidence was overwhelming. Therefore, imprisonment was the only suitable sentence.
■ Our previous report referred to Kindlewood Estate. O’reilly had no link to the estate. The error is regretted.