Dishonest Solicitor Used Money from An Estate to Buy A house
A solicitor has been struck off after using money from an estate she was administering to invest in her own property which she then lived in – and also billed 68 hours for only one day’s work.
Joanne Power qualified in 2002 and worked as the sole principal of Diamonds Legal in Buckhurst Hill, Essex. The firm, which closed in 2017, was investigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), following a qualified accountant’s report.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) was informed by an SRA forensic investigation officer (FIO) that it was noticed because inheritance payments had not been made from an estate before the residential property in Loughton was bought with the residue for the supposed benefit of the estate.
The FIO visited the Loughton property and saw Ms Power leaving “early one morning” with her dogs.
“This was not what he expected to see. The FIO wondered if the property was being rented out privately and the monies not being paid to the estate. He decided to visit.”
The FIO confirmed while he was parked opposite the property Ms Power knocked on the window.
Ms Power confessed that she did live in the property, but said “she did so only occasionally”, but that she paid for the running costs personally and not out of the estate.
The tribunal found that she had lied about how often she lived at the property as it was found to be much more than she had originally claimed over a two-year period.
It said: “[She] had treated the property as if it was her own, including paying all the bills, when she knew that the property did not belong to her and that she was occupying it without the knowledge or consent of those who were entitled to benefit from the estate.”
It was revealed that while working at the firm Ms Power frequently failed over a number of years to provide her clients with acceptable information on costs or a clear breakdown of how she calculated her fees and also vastly overcharged a few of her clients too.
The SRA commissioned a costs lawyer which found that one client was charged £250,600 by Ms Power but was actually only £30,000.
In another estate, The SRA obtained and compared the time-recording documents and the recorded transfers from client to office account – they revealed that on this particular case Ms Power was receiving over £2,700 per hour.
When Ms Power was working on her clients’ estates she provided beneficiaries with misleading information for her reasons as to why there was a delay in allocating the proceeds of estate.
Even though she confessed to all the accusations made against her, she still refused to accept that she had acted with a lack of integrity, or with dishonesty.
The SDT said Ms Power’s misconduct was planned and a “very serious breach of a position of trust”.
Ms Power was ordered to pay costs of £46,600.