Struck-off solicitor sentenced over stamp duty fraud

A struck-off solicitor, who stole more than€9,000 during what was described as a schematic criminal fraud, has been given a seven-month suspended sentence.

A struck-off solicitor, who stole more than€9,000 during what was described as a schematic criminal fraud, has been given a seven-month suspended sentence.

Liam Davis (aged 57), of Avondale Lawn, Blackrock, Dublin, pleaded guilty to a charge under the Theft and Fraud Offences Act.

The father-of-three, who was barred from working as a solicitor in 2009, admitted stealing €9,259 from former client Martina Mulligan, on February 8, 2007.

Detective Sergeant Margaret Murrell of the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation told Dublin District Court that Davis had been questioned as part of a wider investigation.

A laptop was seized from him and a forensic audit was carried out at his office.

This revealed that Davis, who had a practice in south Dublin, had been handling Ms Mulligan's purchase of a second property.

In registering the new property he gave a false buying price and used the wrong stamp duty rate.

The difference between the stamp duty his client had paid to him and that paid by Davis on her behalf to Revenue was €7,657.

“The deed of transfer was in his signature,” Det Sgt Murrell said.

He stole that sum as well as a further amount of €1,602 which was a general credit arising from the sale of Ms Mulligan's first home.

Det Sgt Murrell said the total sum of €9,259 was later lodged into a bank account of another man, with a similar name to Ms Mulligan but who was in no way connected to her.

That person is also the subject of an investigation, the court heard.

Det Sgt Murrell agreed that Davis had no prior criminal convictions and was co-operative but she added that “he made no admissions”.

Lawyers for Davis asked the judge to note that the money has been repaid and there was now no loss to the State or Ms Mulligan. Counsel defending pleaded with the judge not to jail Davis and asked him to note that the ex-solicitor was a family man who had lost his career and does not expect to have good employment prospects.

No explanation was given at the hearing today as to why the stolen money was lodged into an account of a third party or why the crime was committed.

Counsel said Davis had already addressed that during an in camera hearing in the High Court where he was struck-off the solicitor's roll.

Solicitor Bernard Craven, a former college classmate of Davis gave a testimonial in court. He said he was surprised to learn that his former college mate had been barred from practice.

He said Davis, who did not address the court, was embarrassed, deeply apologetic and had to cope with a family tragedy in recent years.

Judge Dunne said that relationship between a solicitor and a client was one of highest duty and “one of the most fundamental relationships of trust”. “A message has to be sent out to deter such crimes,” he said.

It was clear that in this case that trust was "criminally shattered" by Davis, the judge went on to say.

Judge Dunne also said Davis had committed a stamp duty fraud that was “schematic and planned” and which required “intellect and criminal thinking input”.

However, he noted that the stolen money had been reimbursed and Davis had no prior criminal convictions as well as the fact that he had lost his career along with his earlier standing as a professional man.

Judge Dunne imposed a seven-month sentence but suspended it on condition that Davis does not re-offend for the next 18 months.

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