Sole practitioner gets 3.5 years’ jail for $1M trust deficiency

In R v. Gabriel W [2006] VSC 397, a solicitor pleaded guilty to 13 crimes: 9 thefts, 3 counts of obtaining financial advantage by deception, and one trust account deficiency. He received more than $1 million in trust moneys from clients and gambled it away and appears to have been sentenced on the trust account charge to 2 years’ jail. In total, the solicitor was jailed for just short of 6 years, with a non-parole period just short of three and a half years.

The trouble started in 1994 when a client took him to Crown casino. Over the next four years, he gambled millions of dollars. In 1996, the solicitor wrote a cheque for $500,000 and cashed it in exchange for gambling chips. It bounced. He was charged with fraud, and skipped bail. He was on the lam for 8 years.  The killing of a friend who used the same loan sharks who killed the friend did not deter him.

Teague J noted at [9]:

“you left Victoria.  You left in the lurch, your clients, your wife and your parents.  Neither then, nor later, did you provide any help in sorting out the mess that you had left.  In comparable circumstances, some other lawyers have relied in mitigation on their willingness to help their former clients, the police and the Law Institute, to appreciate how moneys were misapplied and how the position as to compensation might quickly be reviewed. You cannot do so.”

In 1999 he spent a year in jail in Western Australia on fraud charges. Later, he moved to Lebanon on a false passport, and whilst there, Beach J struck him off the roll of solicitors in absentia. It is a colourful history, but these are not the crimes Teague J sentenced him for.

Teague J said “You gambled away money belonging to others. More of such money was paid out to try to extricate yourself from the plight in which the gambling had left you. Your addiction to gambling does help to explain why you so wantonly and brazenly disregarded the rights of your clients and of the other victims whom you misled and deceived.  It cannot be seen to excuse what you did. At most it can be seen to mildly reduce the importance of the element of general deterrence.”

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