Former real estate broker Antonio Paolini told a court Wednesday that he paid his rent and other expenses from money a client had paid to purchase land in 2013.
He said he had done so without the client’s permission, but “At the time, it seemed a good idea.”
Paolini, 77, has pleaded not guilty to stealing $51,600 from the client on or about Feb. 25, 2013. Trial began on Monday with jury selection, and Crown counsel Toyin Salako began presenting evidence on Tuesday.
The defendant began his evidence on Wednesday, answering questions from attorney Amelia Fosuhene. He explained that the client had paid cash for a piece of land, but the purchase could not go through immediately because there was a restriction on the title. He put her money in a savings account his business – Cayman Real Estate Company – had for client funds.
Then he used some of the money to pay the rent on the business office. He said the landlord was going to come and change the locks at 3 p.m. that day. He had some money coming in a few days later and thought he could put it back.
Ms. Fosuhene asked why he thought that was a good idea. He accepted that it was not something he was supposed to do as a real estate agent, but by doing so, he could save the company and save 11 jobs.
He explained that he had signed a contract for a house in Canal Point for US$4.5 million and he would get 5 percent. That commission would pay rent and other overheads and would have paid for the client’s land purchase. Paolini said the money was supposed to come from Panama. Then the sale did not happen.
He agreed that he had not asked the client’s permission to use the money. He said he held several meetings with the client and the her agent. In July 2013, he had an agreement drawn up that converted her $51,600 into a loan. In that agreement, he said he would pay 5 percent interest each month and repay the principal amount no later than December 2013.
He ended up not paying any of the principal by the end of the year. He then asked for a new agreement in which he would pay her $2,000 plus interest per month. That did not get signed, and a few days later he was arrested.
He was never able to pay the principal because he did not have the money and the client did not get the land she wanted.
He said he was expelled from the Cayman Islands Real Estate Brokers Association and that impacted his work. When his name went to the newspaper, everybody withdrew their listings from him. “I lost $64 million in listings in 48 hours,” he told Justice Marva McDonald-Bishop and the jury of four women and three men.
He said his company made a little bit of money but lasted only another six months. He tried to find other work, but was not able to.
He was asked if he ever thought he would not be able to pay the client back. “I always have the hope, even till today, to pay it back, but every day it gets more difficult,” he replied.
He denied stealing the money. “I borrowed it for a few days and everything went sour,” he said. “I made a mistake and I’m being treated like a thief.”
Ms. Salako’s cross-examination was continuing at press time.