A disgraced former realty agent who lost his license for on-selling homes and who was acquitted this year of obtaining two other homes by deception has now been convicted of unlicensed trading.
Former Barfoot & Thompson agent Aaron John Hughes was fined $8000 today by Judge David Sharp when he appeared for sentencing in Auckland District Court.
He was caught out in an elaborate sting when Real Estate Authority (REA) investigators posed as buyers inquiring about a property Hughes had listed for sale on Trade Me under his personal account "Phatt 88".
Hughes pleaded guilty to one charge of carrying out real estate work without a license in connection with the attempted sale of three South Auckland homes - one of them belonging to his aunt.
At the time, Hughes had surrendered his license after being sacked by Barfoot & Thompson's Papatoetoe office amid an authority investigation into his sale of 51 Lynton Rd in Mt Wellington.
In April 2016 the Weekend Herald revealed that Hughes, who had been helping elderly brothers Jack and Walter Tata sell their inherited family home, offered to purchase it himself for $530,000.
He flipped it less than four months later for $1.225 million - giving him a $720,000 profit.
During his trial in February this year, it emerged that just days before offering to buy the property, Hughes had secretly obtained a valuation showing it was a "developer's dream" and "might sell well in excess of $1.2m-$1.5m".
The valuation was never disclosed to the Tatas.
The court heard Hughes told his manager "I'm f***ed" when confronted over the sale, and later offered the family $100,000 after they learned of his windfall from the Weekend Herald. The exchange was caught on a secret recording in which Hughes told the family he had no idea their old house was worth so much.
He was also charged over his purchase of a Mangere Bridge property, which Hughes still owns.
Hughes' lawyer David Jones QC argued his client did not set out to deceive the vendors and was not acting in his capacity as a licensed agent.
A jury acquitted Hughes of two obtaining by deception charges after a week-long trial.
A Weekend Herald investigation in 2016 revealed that Hughes had lost his career after admitting misconduct, and Barfoot had made financial settlements to two vendors totally about $150,000, in connection with the on-selling of two South Auckland clients' homes.
In one case, a house was sold three times in 11 days for a total mark-up of $95,000.
Another house was sold twice in one day for an extra $100,000, with Hughes receiving double commission totally about $45,000.
After the sales came to light, Barfoot carried out an internal audit. Hughes and a colleague were given final warnings in late 2014 and reported to the REA. Their then manager was dismissed.
In the latest case, Hughes marketed three homes on Trade Me in June 2016, despite not holding a valid license as required under The Real Estate Agents Act.
He used his personal account, Phatt 88, on the listings along with his personal cellphone number.
An investigator contacted Hughes posing as a buyer named "Ron Leggett" and met with him at one of the properties.
Hughes advised the investigator on price and later emailed the sale and purchase agreement.
"The defendant declined to offer any explanation for his conduct," court documents state.
Barfoot managing director Peter Thompson said Hughes was given a final warning in late 2014, pending the outcome of the REA disciplinary process.
Hughes was immediately dismissed however when news of the Tatas deal came to light.
In hindsight, the company could have let him go sooner, but each case had to be treated on its individual merits, Thompson said.
REA boss Kevin Lampen-Smith welcomed today's sentencing. "Rogue" real estate agents who operated outside the law would be held to account and face serious consequences, he said.
Lampen-Smith said the watchdog was disappointed that Hughes was acquitted of criminal charges in February.
"We take every opportunity we can to hold people to account, particularly former real estate agents who operate outside the law.
"Buying or selling property is a complex and often-stressful time in peoples' lives and New Zealanders should be able to trust that the person they are dealing with is licensed and professional."
The REA encouraged people buying or selling homes to check an agent's background on its online public register.