It's the cover-up that gets you
A retired solicitor has been struck off for dishonestly providing a misleading letter to the SRA, while he was being investigated by the regulator.
Montague Frankel, 75, was a co-founder of DWFM Beckman (which has since merged to become Axiom DWFM Solicitors), and retired in 2019.
One of Frankel's clients, who was also a friend, ran a property management business. Over a period of almost 22 years, between 1997 and 2019, Frankel allowed payments totalling around £1.17m to be transferred through the firm's client account, on behalf of the property company, without any underlying legal transaction.
The client account was used to receive rental income and other payments from tenants, as well as pay out expenses such as tax and insurance, on behalf of the business. The balance, less legal fees, was then transferred to the client.
The SRA investigated the matter and deemed that such services were not part of the firm's normal regulated activities. Frankel claimed that it was a misunderstanding, and that he didn't realise that property management was a prohibited activity.
During the investigation, Frankel created a letter, purporting to be the firm's retainer with the client, which he dishonestly dated December 2014. He submitted the letter to the SRA, but the regulator discovered the letter had only been written in 2021. After the deceit came to light, Frankel claimed that he couldn't find the original letter from 2014, and he'd therefore decided to re-type the letter with a false date. The veteran lawyer also said that he'd asked the client to re-sign the letter "by way of confirmation" of the original agreement.
In its judgment, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said the banking facility issue alone was not serious enough to strike the veteran solicitor off the roll, especially as he was already retired.
However, the tribunal said "in creating the misleading letter," Frankel "was acting in his own personal interests, seeking to conceal his other wrongdoing of providing the banking facility." By "misleading the regulator he seriously damaged the reputation of the profession." It was this act of "dishonesty" that "placed his misconduct at the highest level" and the tribunal therefore ordered that Frankel be struck off the roll.
The tribunal also criticised Frankel for asking his client, a "vulnerable person", to sign the falsely dated letter.
Frankel accepted the decision to be struck off the roll, and agreed to pay the SRA's costs of £15,000.