Bipolar solicitor lost €242k in a ‘classic scam’

A solicitor fell victim to a classic scam when he handed over €242,000 in client monies on the promise of getting €26.8m from a Nigerian oil company, the High Court has heard.

No client of James J Maher, formerly practising as a partner in James Maher & Co, Essex Quay, Dublin, was left out of pocket because he subsequently got an inheritance from an uncle to enable him pay the money back, the court also heard.

Mr Maher, aged 53, was subsequently diagnosed as having suffered from bi-polar disorder throughout his life.

High Court President Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns yesterday said he would not strike off Mr Maher but ordered that he can only practise in the future subject to certain restrictions, including only working as an assistant solicitor and not being allowed to sign cheques or bank transfers.

The court heard the scam arose at a time in Mr Maher’s life when he was having marital difficulties.

An architect client for whom Mr Maher had previously acted told him his wife was dying from cancer in England and he wanted to get the €26.8m he was owed from the ‘National Petroleum Company of Nigeria’ for work the architect had done on an oil pipeline.

Mr Maher was told the architect first needed to send money to Nigeria to get “money-laundering clearance and terrorist clearance” before the €26m would be sent over, to be lodged in the solicitor’s account. As a result, Mr Maher made several withdrawals from his client account, totalling €242,219, and paid it to the architect between April and September 2011.

Mr Maher told a Law Society investigating accountant that he was in contact with a number of people in Nigeria, including the governor of its central bank and president of its senate.

Asked by Mr Justice Kearns was he not surprised to be told the architect was owed €26m, Mr Maher said he was shown documentation which seemed to support what he was being told.

His counsel, Seamus Ó’Tuathail, said he was the type of person who can readily sympathise with others but “perhaps overdo it”.

Paul Anthony McDermott, for the Law Society, said he had fallen for the “classic scam” whereby a person is informed, usually by email, that they had won the lottery in Nigeria and that all they had to do to collect their winnings was to forward their bank details and €5,000.

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