A disgraced former solicitor and UUP councillor who abused his “position of power” to swindle more than £90,000 from two clients, narrowly missed going to jail today .
Sentencing David Greene at Craigavon Crown Court, Judge Roseanne McCormick QC told the 66-year-old it was “after anxious consideration” and taking the background facts and reports into consideration that she was taking the “exceptional” course of suspending his 20-month sentence for three years.
She said while the protracted frauds had been calculated, premeditated and sophisticated, “there’s nothing sophisticated about what he did with the money,” in that it was used to “fund his lifestyle” including improvements to his home, a family holiday and a £10,000 donation to the USPCA to save animals from being euthanised.
At an earlier hearing Greene, from Drumaknockan Lane in Hillsborough, entered guilty pleas to two charges of fraud by abusing his position in Greene and Malpas solicitors on dates between April 30, 2007 and June 29, 2011.
The first count outlines how Greene committed fraud “in regard to funds held by you in the Greene and Malpas Clients Account” in respect of a Fergus Dorman while the second charge reveals. that he abused his position “in regard to £12,000 paid to you on 1st April 2009 to pay Stamp Duty, with the intention, by means of the abuse of that position to make a gain for yourself or another or to cause loss to William McCann and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.”
Prosecuting counsel Ian Tannahill told the court that in relation to Mr Dornan, Greene dealt with a “large number” of conveyancing transactions in relation to multiple properties but instead of billing the client in the normal way, Greene charged him nominal amounts on paper and used the solicitor’s client account to top it up.
Describing that method as a “totally inappropriate and unprofessional way” to bill a client, Mr Tannahill said it would also have affected the firm’s tax bill and while the amounts were able to be traced, “it is also clear that there was no checking process, and the account was used in a very ‘fast and loose’ fashion.”
The majority of the payments relating to the first count were over a two-year period from 2007 and although they amounted to £80,000, the Crown could only prove for certain that £26,000 of that had been “personal expenditure” for Greene.
Initially interviewed as long ago as 2011 and with the Law Society having already closed his practice and seized documents, Greene was not able to remember what other amounts had been used for, suggesting that many of them could have been proper business expenses.
“It is accepted that the real total probably lies somewhere between the money accepted at interview, that being £26,000, and the overall payments that were put to him that appear to amount to around £80,000,” said Mr Tannahill, adding that “the Law Society had serious concerns regarding 25+ property conveyances including mortgage transactions and stamp duty issues, and this resulted in a long and protracted investigation.”
Turning to count two, the lawyer said it was much more straight forward in that Mr McCann had lent Greene £12,000 to pay stamp duty fees, but the defendant never forwarded the payment to the relevant authority and instead, spent about £11,000 on himself.
In his plea in mitigation, defence counsel Joel Lindsay outlined how Greene started working as a solicitor in 1979 and had exclusively done conveyancing work, revealing that at the time of the property boom, he was working seven days a week completing upwards of 20 conveyance deals with no holidays.
However, “disaster struck” when the market collapsed and not long after that the Law Society began their investigations and when the firm closed, Greene “fell into a deep depression.”
His arrest and interview triggered such a psychotic break down that Greene suffered visual and auditory hallucinations, tried to commit suicide at least twice and was on heavy medication and constant supervision.
Having received a serious brain injury when a horse kicked him to the head, Greene was trying to get his life back together when the case was raised again.
“He says there’s not one day he hasn’t thought about this case, and it has been hanging around now for 10 years,” said Mr Lindsay.
Sentencing Greene, Judge McCormick said that as a solicitor and officer of the court, there had been a high degree of trust put into the defendant, but he chose to abuse that trust by “taking clients’ funds to fund his own lifestyle.
Other aggravating features were the repetition of a large number of transactions, the length of the fraud and “the fact that he actually worked out a disguised system to evade tax.”
In mitigation Greene had admitted his guilt even at his first interviews nine years ago, his clear record and that the “shadow of the proceedings” had been hanging over him and his family all that time.
That delay, coupled with his clear psychiatric and mental difficulties, lead the judge to conclude there were exceptional circumstances to suspend the prison sentence.