How the court deemed Schools to have acted, in a language he understands
A solicitor, who named his firm after a cash machine, has been jailed for 14 years for dishonestly siphoning off £20m of investors' cash.
Timothy Schools founded the Cayman-based Axiom Legal Financing Fund, and persuaded more than 500 backers to supposedly fund UK law firms pursuing no win, no fee claims. Axiom told investors that the money would be forwarded to an independent panel of firms, which would pay back the money with 15% interest.
“Over £100 million was invested by individuals," Prosecutor Miranda Moore QC told the Southwark Crown Court. "People were investing their savings, their pension pot. But Schools only loaned money to a very limited number of firms”.
Moore QC told the court that from 2008 to 2011 none of the loans went to any genuine independent law firm.
Instead, Axiom provided funds to Schools' own law firm - ATM Solicitors, so-named as Schools described it as his "personal cash machine".
Schools was "making money over fist" to fund a life of luxury, the court was told. The dodgy solicitor creamed off £19.5m from the fund, using the cash to buy a £5m estate in Cumbria, a ski hotel in France, luxury cars and a box at Blackpool FC, which he claimed was used for corporate hospitality.
The Axiom fund collapsed in 2012, and the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal struck Schools off the roll in 2014.
Schools' barrister, George Carter-Stephenson QC, argued to the court that Axiom "was not a dishonest scheme", and that those who backed it were "sophisticated investors."
But Judge Martin Beddoe said Schools was guilty of an "egregious and persistent crime involving huge sums of money" and deemed that the Axiom scheme was fraudulent "more or less from the start."
The judge lambasted Schools, saying he was an "utterly dishonest man", it was reported. "I have no doubt, I'm afraid, that you always saw this as a 'get rich quick' scheme," said the judge, adding, "I reject the idea that you simply set up the scheme for the benefit of others."
The court convicted Schools of three counts of fraudulent trading, one charge of fraud and a charge of transferring criminal property, and sentenced him to 14 years in jail.
Lisa Osofsky, director of The Serious Fraud Office said: "Mr Schools deliberately abused his position of trust to enrich himself. Through a complex web of lies, he attempted to hide his fraudulent activity while spending other people’s hard earned money".