Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Bogus 'lawyer' jailed for 14 years

Giovanni Di Stefano, who has no legal qualifications, conned clients out of millions of pounds
Giovanni Di Stefano, who has no legal qualifications, conned clients out of millions of pounds

A self-styled lawyer has been sentenced to a total of 14 years for a series of frauds on "desperate and vulnerable victims" whom he tricked into thinking he was a bona fide legal professional.

Giovanni di Stefano, 57, who became known as the Devil's Advocate for taking on "unwinnable" cases, was convicted on 25 charges including deception, fraud and money laundering between 2001 and 2011 at London's Southwark Crown Court.

On Thursday he pleaded guilty to another two counts of fraud and a further three counts were ordered to lie on file.

Judge Alistair McCreath, the Recorder of Westminster, noted there were many offences over significant periods of time.

The fact the victims, which included a disabled man seeking damages for the loss of an arm, were all "desperate and vulnerable" and faced losses which were not just financial but also included the "raising and dashing of false hope" were aggravating factors, the judge said.

He conned clients out of millions of pounds by setting himself up as a lawyer when he had no legal qualifications and was not registered to work as a lawyer in Italy or the UK.

He used the Italian word "avvocato" on business cards, letterheads and identification documents to give clients - and the judiciary - the impression he was an advocate.

The judge told di Stefano: "I recognise that you did not actively seek out those whom you defrauded. They came to you. You did not approach them but there is more than one kind of predator. Some predators hunt down their victims, others lie in wait for them. Your victims in this case were all desperate people and people who, because of their desperation, were vulnerable."

Di Stefano, of North Stream, Marshside, Canterbury, Kent, was found guilty of nine counts of obtaining a money transfer by deception, eight counts of fraud, three counts of acquiring criminal property, two counts of using a false instrument, one count of attempting to obtain a money transfer by deception, one count of obtaining property by deception and one count of using criminal property.

He pleaded guilty to stealing £150,000 compensation that should have gone to a man who had lost an arm in a car crash. The money was due as part of an insurance policy but di Stefano had it paid in to his business account and "duly stole it". This was a "wicked" crime and is one which "stands in a league of its own", according to the judge.

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