A solicitor of 47 years has been struck off after transferring client money to the office account to inflate his firm’s bank balance.
Raymond Lawrence Toms, sole practitioner with Plymouth firm Goldbergs Solicitors, admitted seeking to disguise the transfers by cancelling, delaying or failing to send cheques.
In an agreed outcome with the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Toms also admitted overcharging clients and failing to pay disbursements to third parties within a reasonable time or even at all.
The outcome said Toms’ acts of dishonesty were ‘numerous and repeated’, using funds to which he had no right to aid his own cash flow and financial positions, and to cover up previous transfers. These were ‘serious, systemic and calculated acts’ committed over an extended period to the detriment of clients, estates and beneficiaries, including charities and vulnerable people.
The matter came to light when a fee earner at the firm became concerned about Toms’ conduct and reported it in 2015. The firm closed three years later. This whistleblower told the SRA it was the ‘culture’ of the firm to make office account payments.
He explained that cheques were drawn but not sent to the recipient within two working days. These cheques were then cancelled and marked on the ledger as being lost in the post.
Funds were used to ‘ease cashflow’ and pay counsel fees, expert fees, ATE insurance premiums and stamp duty land tax. It was reported that Toms had an outstanding liability to HM Revenue & Customs and frequently failed to pay salaries.
Bank statements assessed by the SRA found improper transfers in eight matters causing a minimum client account shortage of £326,000. It was found in one case that the value of work done and billed was around £15,000, but the client ledger showed that 18 bills were raised on the matter coming to more than £45,000. A junior solicitor formerly with the firm told the SRA the position on probate matters was not to pay monies out to beneficiaries until 10 months after the probate was granted.
In mitigation, Toms said that he wrongly believed he could run the practice remotely with monthly visits to the office.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal agreed Toms should be struck off and ordered to pay £17,250 costs.