A solicitor who made a misguided – and ultimately criminal – venture into the vintage wine business has been banned from the legal profession.
Michael Lloyd Wilson was convicted of possession of criminal property in April 2016 and subsequently sentenced to three years' imprisonment.
Wilson had balanced work as an east London solicitor with running a company called Global Wine Investments Limited, through which members of the public paid to purchase expensive vintage wines as an investment.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that in most cases investors – some elderly – received no wine and lost their money. It was estimated that Wilson, 42 this year, took around £100,000 in cash withdrawals, transfers or other payments.
In a published judgment, the tribunal said Wilson, who was also disqualified from running a company for seven years, had acted with a ‘lack of soundness, rectitude and a steady adherence to an ethical code’.
The remarks of the sentencing judge had indicated this was a high culpability case involving money laundering, where Wilson had direct control over his actions.
The tribunal said Wilson had repeatedly funded his other businesses, which included a PPI business and not-for-profit company helping children in school, through the wine investments.
‘He had taken advantage of a number of members of the public including elderly people,’ added the judgment.
Wilson explained to the tribunal he had been ambitious and had aimed to retire early after floating a company on the stock exchange, but he had not appreciated how much he was taking on and was trying to do too many things at once.
He accepted his conviction and stated he made some ‘treacherous choices’ and that ‘remorse was not a strong enough word’ to describe how he felt.
Wilson stated he had completely lost control of the amounts he had been taking from the wine business which resulted in massive financial mismanagement.
After practising for 13 years, he said he was now left with nothing and could not even claim benefits, with his reputation in tatters and his conduct widely publicised.
‘All he had left was his profession and he hoped there was some light at the end of the tunnel so he could find a way back,’ noted the tribunal.
Despite concluding he was unlikely to repeat his conduct, the SDT said this was a criminal offence so serious that a striking off order was appropriate and proportionate to protect the public and the reputation of the profession. Wilson was also ordered to pay £3,397 costs.