Unscrupulous Probate Paralegal Executive Commits £70,000 Fraud
A paralegal executive has been jailed for over three years after stealing tens of thousands of pounds from the estates of deceased clients she was working with.
Lucy Gunton used sophisticated social engineering methods to steal approximately £70,000 during a six-month spree of lies and dishonesty.
Having been taken on as a secretary at Bate Edmund Snape (BES) by managing partner, Nick Taylor, in 2003, Lucy Gunton, a law graduate, then worked her way up to the trusted position of paralegal executive.
Whilst working through the administration process involved with Ivy Holden’s estate, Lucy Gunton followed the wishes of the Will by passing on money to a number of charities and family members.
However, whilst she was contacting Ivy Holden’s nephew, Stephen Lillycrop, living in America at the time, Lucy Gunton seized her opportunity to defraud the estate.
Exploiting a delay during a tax rebate, Gunton contacted Mr Lillycrop and extracted key and sensitive information she would later use to her advantage.
Pertaining to be Mr Lillycrop, Gunton produced a hand written letter, delivered to BES, demanding an advance payment on his inheritance to be paid to an English address in Devon. In total, Gunton persuasively requested £26,500 to be paid by the next day.
Despite concerns from Mr Taylor, Gunton increased her deceit by claiming she had contacted the Law Society who advised her that the firm would be liable to complaints procedures if the advance was not paid.
Reluctantly, the money was paid. Within 12 weeks of the first payment, Gunton repeated the process for an additional £26,500.
In addition to this deceit, using the details of another client, Gunton pretended to be the bereaved wife of Brian Gorman. In this letter, she pleaded for a release of her husband’s estate to make home improvements and complete building work. In this case, she defrauded her firm and client out of £16,750.
Although Gunton’s use of social engineering and manipulation of the staff she worked with had been effective in convincing the management team to release the funds, a simple lower-case spelling error in the postcode of the firm’s address, that was made in both letters, connected the frauds and linked Gunton.
Having investigated further, Mrs Gorman’s half-brother confirmed the letter was false as she relies on her brother in regards to computer matters and there had been no building works completed on her property.
Compounding the brazen disregard for her clients and employers further, the forged letters also depicted Gunton as a model employee that was working above and beyond to provide a good service.
In order to cover the losses, Mr Taylor of BES has been forced to take out personal loans to replace the lost funds.
Judge Sarah Buckingham, Presiding Judge, claimed:
“You knew how much money they had, and you decided to take some of that money for yourself.
“In both letters you had the audacity to include praise of yourself. Perhaps it was part of the smoke-screen.”
When Gunton was questioned by her managing director prior to the first payment, Judge Buckingham highlights there was a clear window to withdraw any criminal intentions.
“If you had an ounce of shame about what you were doing, that was the time to desist, but you did it again.”
Sophie Murray, defending, said:
“Getting to today has been a very difficult journey for her because she has had to admit her guilt. She has struggled to come to terms with what she’s done and to admit it.
“She got into a relationship with her husband and wanted to have a life she had never had, and she was living in a type of fantasy land by using other people’s money.”
The legitimate threat imposed by sophisticated social engineering highlights the damage that can be caused if a comprehensive due diligence process is not carried out.
Could a fraud of this type be carried out by employees within your law firm or business? How should these incidents have been prevented?