"I will charge a large success fee."
A crooked solicitor has been sentenced to 12 years in prison after stealing millions from his client, who was forced to initiate a private prosecution when the Crown Prosecution Service failed to take up the case.
Discovery Land Company, a US business operating on behalf of entrepreneur John Dejoria, instructed Stephen Jones to purchase Taymouth Castle in Scotland in 2018, and paid across $14,050,000 to cover the purchase price and incidental costs.
As the sale was due to complete, Jones falsely claimed to have only just learned of Dejoria's involvement, and said the transaction would have to pause while he carried out compliance checks on the American.
The solicitor asked for another $9.3m to buy the castle in the meantime, telling Discovery Land that he would repay the excess money as soon as the initial funds were unfrozen. "So they did what they were asked and transferred $9,300,000", said Steven Kay KC and Max Hardy, the barristers instructed in the private prosecution: "They had now paid for their castle twice".
When the money was not returned, because Jones had spirited it away to parties unknown, the lawyer prevented his client from finding out by telling Development Land that the bank could not transfer the cash because its staff were away for the Christmas holidays.
Then he lied that Barclays had raised a "random audit issue", before taking the drastic measure of reporting Dejoria to the National Crime Agency, citing allegations that the American was connected to the Libyan Government and had been involved in a fraud.
Development Land finally ran out of patience after finding out that its castle was subject to a mysterious new mortgage, £5m of which had been drawn down, and the company applied to court. It discovered that while the property had been bought with its surplus £9.3m, the initial $14m had disappeared.
When Jones refused to disclose the whereabouts of the missing money during civil proceedings, he was found guilty of contempt and sentenced to 14 months in prison. The court managed to squeeze out of Jones that the cash was sent to 51 third parties, many of which had connections with Jones through either his appointment as a director or services provided by his law firm, Jirehouse. But he kept the identities of the key 'borrowers' secret.
"Mr Jones has, on each occasion he has provided information, given the minimum he considered he could get away, when I am fully satisfied he knew and knows a lot more", said the judge.
He passed the file on Jones to the CPS and the police, but they did nothing, and after months of inaction, Development Land resorted to a private prosecution.
Dejoria's doggedness paid off, partially. Two days before Jones's trial was due to start, the lawyer pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud. The judge described his crime as "an offence of rank dishonesty" which was "carried out by a person who undoubtedly knew that it was dishonest", and has sentenced him to 12 years in prison.
Last Friday Jones was struck off by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which had already closed down Jirehouse in 2019 after it was made subject to a freezing injunction. However, the money remains missing.
Legend has it that Taymouth's 17th century owner, Sir Colin Campbell, was cursed by a witch, but lawyers also seem jinxed by the stately pile. Prior to Jones's downfall, a solicitor acting for the previous proprietors was was fined £2,500 by the SDT and ordered to pay costs of £10,000 when he was caught using his firm's client account to pay the salaries of the estate's golf club staff. He declined to comment on the castle hex.
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