A veteran of almost 50 years practice has agreed to pay £26,000 in fines and costs after admitting a string of accounting mistakes.
Andrew Rugg, a sole practitioner based in Taunton, at one point oversaw the transfer of £290,000 for a property purchase to the wrong account after being duped by a fake email account. The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that, despite his bank raising suspicions about the transfer, Rugg was ‘quite relaxed’ about the situation and did not report the matter to the SRA or police for three months. The missing funds were eventually replaced by the firm’s insurers, although Rugg had consistently said he had the facility to replace the money.
Rugg, admitted in 1971, also admitted not properly investigating or rectifying client debit balances of £129,000 across 109 matters and office credit balances of £36,000 across 115 matters, as at the end of August 2019.
Many of the client debit balances arose due to what were described as ‘basic administration problems’, with Rugg not updating ledgers across different matters and/or making or allowing posting errors.
Investigators reviewed a selection of 12 files, which showed shortages caused by duplicate transfers of costs on several matters, and on one file an overpayment to beneficiaries in error. On multiple occasions, the situation was not addressed for at least six months.
Rugg’s reporting accountants said that action has been taken to remedy issues and bookkeeping procedures have improved, with regular checks on client accounts.
In mitigation, Rugg said there was no question of dishonesty or lack of integrity and no client was charged twice for the same work. He cooperated fully with the investigation and expressed regret for his errors.
The tribunal said Rugg was in a position of trust but had breached that trust, failing to set up a reliably coherent accounts system and not paying proper attention to the firm’s finances.
It was agreed between the SRA and Rugg that he should pay a £10,000 fine and £16,000 costs.