Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Law & Order : Lawyer William Rennie jailed for 1 year over £90k embezzlement of client funds

The latest solicitor to be jailed for embezzling their clients funds is one William Rennie, of Irvine, Ayrshire, who helped himself to £90,000 from the client accounts over a two year period.

The Scotsman reports :

Pillar of community to prison – downfall of a crooked lawyer

Published Date: 19 May 2009
By Campbell Thomas

A LAWYER who took nearly £90,000 from unsuspecting clients has been jailed for a year.

William Rennie, 56, traded on his image as a respectable family solicitor and upstanding member of the Ayrshire community.

But he secretly siphoned off cash from the proceeds of divorce cases and family wills after his business collapsed.

Jailing Rennie yesterday, Sheriff Alistair Watson told him: "A solicitor has a special place of trust in the lives of people and the abuse of that trust is always extremely serious."

In one case, Rennie banked £30,000 which was intended to pay off a mortgage following a divorce, writing on the cheque stub that it had been used to settle the mortgage.

On another occasion, £15,000 was paid into his account but was disguised on the stub as a bequest to a friend of the deceased person.

One divorcing couple had asked Rennie to keep the money from their house sale, which was to be split between them, until they needed it.

But instead Rennie paid himself £10,000, writing on cheque stubs that the husband and wife had each received £5,000.

The crimes came to light in July 2004 when Rennie used clients' money to pay a VAT bill in a bid to avoid legal action.

He ceased trading in November 2004 after the Law Society became involved. Rennie told police: "I must have been crazy."

He admitted embezzlement from his firm, Rennie and Co, in High Street, Irvine, between June 2002 and September 2004.

He was originally charged with taking nearly £140,000, but the Crown reduced the amount when he agreed to plead guilty.

Rennie, of Kilmaurs, was cleared of failing to obey a court order relating to earlier bankruptcy proceedings after his guilty plea.

Sarah Livingstone, defence advocate, said Rennie got into financial difficulties after his partnership with another solicitor dissolved in the 1990s. He faced rising staff costs and diverted money from clients' accounts to keep the business afloat.

Miss Livingstone told Kilmarnock Sheriff Court: "As serious as this is, and he knows it is, he has lost everything. Nothing was hidden and it was obvious he was going to be caught. He just buried his head in the sand."

Rennie was suffering serious health problems because of the offence, Miss Livingstone said, adding: "He was not living the high life."

In 2006, Rennie was found guilty of professional misconduct after allowing a house to fall into ruin. The Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) heard he had been asked to handle the estate of a couple who left no wills after dying just weeks apart.

But he took no action for nearly three years, then refused to co-operate with a Law Society of Scotland probe.

After the ruling, Rennie was placed on restriction and banned from practising without supervision. He was struck off as a solicitor in December 2007.

Rennie's victims had been repaid through a fund contributed to by all Scots solicitors, the court heard.

He refunded £70,000 of the money after selling his home and cashing in endowments.

Passing sentence, Sheriff Watson told Rennie he recognised he was a "broken man" who had shown contrition.

No comments: