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Machanik’s R2.5m plea flop

Feb 19 2012 11:30 Adriaan Basson and Charl du Plessis

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Johannesburg - Disgraced estate agent Wendy Machanik withdrew from a R2.5m plea bargain at the last minute this week – because she’s broke.

City Press can reveal that Machanik was on the brink of making a deal with the state that would have seen her pay a fine – rather than go to jail – for stealing clients’ money from her trust account.

But Machanik couldn’t come up with the R2.5m for the fine and was forced to fire her lawyers.

Cyril Ziman, her former lawyer, confirmed that the once-powerful estate agent’s deal with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had collapsed “because she couldn’t come up with the amount”.

Instead, Ziman withdrew from the case on Friday and Machanik remains on bail.

She has since appointed attorney Michael Salomon and advocate Sam Cohen to represent her.

City Press is in possession of an unsigned plea bargain agreement between Machanik and the state that was supposed to be handed in on Friday.

In it, Machanik admits to stealing clients’ money and says she has proverbially “fallen
from grace”.

Machanik was planning to plead guilty to contravening three sections of the Estate Agency Affairs Act and to 115 counts of theft.

In the plea agreement, she admits she:

» Failed to keep accounting records that were necessary to fairly reflect the state of affairs of Wendy Machanik Properties;

» Failed to have the accounting records of Wendy Machanik Properties audited from 2006 to 2010;

» Failed to notify the industry regulator of the existence of a trust account held at Nedbank for Wendy Machanik Properties; and

» Unlawfully misappropriated money in her trust fund.

“Without derogating” from her admissions, Machanik continues to state that Wendy Machanik Properties was one of the leading estate agencies in the country.

By late 2005, the agency lost key staff members in the accounting department and the accounting system changed, leaving the agency vulnerable.

This was never properly fixed. Wendy Machanik Properties also operated a rental business and tenants were asked to deposit money into a different trust account. The industry regulator was not notified.

Machanik was further planning to admit to the cardinal sin for estate agents: dipping into your trust account for personal use.

“The accused unlawfully and without any entitlement accessed the trust account, and caused transfers to be made to the Wendy Machanik Properties business account, trade creditors and to herself.”

Machanik planned to argue that, as a result of her guilty plea, she would become disqualified to act as a director of a company and that her image was seriously dented by at least 400 media articles that were published about her case.

In mitigation, Machanik would have argued that she had passed grade 11; had been a gifted ballet dancer who performed in Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Aida; had achieved numerous Business Woman of the Year awards; used all her “earthly assets” to settle her liabilities; and that her friends had offered to pay the R2.5m fine on her behalf.

Apart from the fine, Machanik would have been sentenced to correctional supervision of three years.

A tired-looking Machanik, dressed in a black and pink dress, arrived alone at the Johannesburg Commercial Crimes Court on Friday, where her case was suspended to March 14.

- City Press

wendy machanik  |  npa
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