Senior partner stole Â£1.2m from estates
Experienced private client solicitor made â€˜monumental departure' from probity and trust
The former senior partner of a 200-year-old firm has been struck off for stealing nearly £1.2m from two estates to pay off credit card debt and her husband's expenses.
Linda Box, 67, misappropriated £1.163m between May 2014 and November 2015, when the partners at her firm found out and alerted the Solicitors Regulation Authority. The firm, Wakefield-based Dixon, Coles and Gill, was closed down four months later.
In a ruling last November, which was only made available last week, the SDT said Box had 'repeatedly and deliberately used the funds to make improper payments for her own benefit and for the benefit of her husband's company'.
Striking her off for dishonesty, the tribunal said Box 'sought to conceal the true nature of the payments by using false narratives on some of the payment transfer slips'.
'The scale of the appropriation was one of the highest this tribunal had come across', the SDT remarked, and 'a monumental departure by the respondent from the principles of integrity, probity, and trust expected of a solicitor'.
Box first took out £537,650 from one client account. Some of the money was used to settle a negligence claim against the firm for £72,774. She didn't tell the other partners at the time, nor did she inform the firm's insurers.
Among other transactions were a series of transfers, variously described as 'transfer to investment account' or 'payment under will', for a total amount of £380,000, several payments to her credit card companies, and £5,524 to the marketing company used by her husband's funeral business.
She later made 29 payments from a second estate for a total value of £625,721. Some of these, she admitted, were made to service personal loans and to meet further credit card liabilities.
In addition, when questioned by her partners, Box said the recipients were people she knew the deceased would have liked to benefit but there had not been time to make a further will of codicil before the client's final illness.
Box was confronted by the two other partners at the firm in early January 2016. They had uncovered the misappropriation a few weeks previously, around Christmas. She admitted to her actions and left the firm.
The next day, the partners notified the SRA, which suspended Box and opened an investigation. The firm was intervened into in April.
Appearing before the tribunal because she wanted to 'face the music', Box admitted she knew what she had done was wrong and dishonest and she accepted she was likely to be struck off.
In an attempt at mitigation, Box's counsel said she had been of previous good character and had been motivated not by greed but by pride, seeking to provide for her close family and friends.
'Her generosity in later years had extended far beyond her means and she had lacked the courage to say that she could not afford to provide the lifestyle they had become accustomed to,' he said. And once she'd started to spend beyond her means, 'it was an inevitable path to ruin'.
The compensation fund has made payments of £300,000 to clients and there are still claims pending for £600,000. Insurers have also paid out £800,000.
'It was clear there had been losses of a breathtaking amount,' the tribunal said.
The SDT ruling was published on the day Box was separately convicted for fraud, theft, and forgery at Leeds Crown Court (pictured).
A BBC news report said Box stole £63,000 from the Church while acting as a registrar for the diocese of Wakefield and spent the money on shopping sprees, vintage wines, expensive hotels, and holidays.
Overall, it says, Box made out with more than £4m over 12 years.
Jean-Yves Gilg is editor in chief at Solicitors Journal