A solicitor has been jailed for five years after pleading guilty to defrauding clients of £218,000 in an attempt to keep his firm afload.
Stephen John Ellis, 43 (pictured), was sentenced at Carlisle Crown Court last week. He had been senior partner at Kendal firm Temple Heelis Commercial LLP (trading as TH Commercial LLP), which was shut down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority last year. The firm had no connection with Temple Heelis LLP, which is a separate recognised body practising in Kendal and Windermere and was not party to the proceedings.
Elllis was arrested in September 2013 after an investigation by Cumbria police following complaints about false invoices and money being removed from accounts without authority. He was charged with nine counts of fraud, one count of making false representation to creditors and one count of false accounting. He pleaded not guilty at a hearing in May, but at his next appearance, on 9 October, entered a guilty plea.
In a statement, Cumbria Police said that Ellis had ‘plundered the accounts of trusting clients’ in a desperate attempt to keep his failing firm afloat.
During the investigation, officers looked at the accountancy system used by TH Commercial LLP and, with clients' permission, ‘a large number of client files’. An independent costs lawyer who viewed the material found some of Ellis’ practices to be ‘highly unconventional’. The total value of the fraud was estimated at £218,000.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority was notified of the police investigation and they also carried out their own independent investigation.
Superintendent Rob O’Connor, the senior investigating officer, said: ‘Ellis may have been well intentioned in the beginning, but he was also an intelligent man and an experienced senior solicitor in a position of trust. He knew he had a clear duty to his clients but set about a series of frauds on his clients, finance companies, factoring agents and ultimately his creditors to obtain monies to keep TH Commercial LLP going.’
Ellis’ firm was shut down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in July 2014. It reported that a ground for intervention existed under paragraph 1(1)(d) of part 1 of schedule 1 to the Solicitors Act 1974 (as amended) as Ellis was declared bankrupt on 26 February 2014. A Stephen John Ellis is listed on the roll as a non-practising solicitor who was admitted in 1999.