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West Sussex legal trio stole £700,000 to pay mortgages and fund lavish lifestyle

  • 30/01/2017
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Three legal professionals who worked at a Selsey-based law firm in West Sussex, have been sentenced to jail for embezzling nearly £700,000 of client money, some of which was used to finance mortgage payments.

Emma Coates, 47, of no fixed abode, but formally of Selsey, was sentenced to six years after being found guilty on two counts of fraud by abuse of position. Coates’ criminal activity was spread across two separate law firms. From December 2008 and November 2011, while employed as a legal executive at CK Solicitors, she made a series of transfers from the firm’s client accounts to her own. After CK Solicitors closed in 2011, Coates went on to establish Coates & Co. She defrauded clients and stole funds when acting as an executor for local Selsey residents.

During the six-year period it emerged that Coates used client money to finance monthly mortgage payments on a series of properties she had purchased. She indulged herself with lavish purchases including a Range Rover, a £10,000 hot tub, and holiday to Barbados with friends.

Coates’ fraudulent activity in the role of executor came to light during 2014 when the investigation was passed to officers of the Sussex Police Economic Crime Unit.

Simon Kenny, 60, St Leonards, who worked as a district judge and principle solicitor at CK Solicitors between January 2007 and May 2011, received six years jail time after being found guilty of two counts of fraud by abuse of his position. Kenny was convicted for transferring client money to cover the money they had drawn from the firm.

Kenny’s deceit was exposed by the tragic death of the firm’s accountant, Robert Foskett, who had become unwittingly involved in the fraud and took his own life because he could not cope with the realisation. He named Kenny in his suicide note.

A freelance legal consultant for CK Solicitors and long-standing friend of Kenny was the third member of the firm to be convicted. Stephen Hiseman, 60, of an address in the resort of Morzine in the French Alps, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years after being found guilty of two counts of fraud.

He became involved in the transfer of £60,000 of client money which was diverted to his own foreign bank account. He had earlier obtained £5,000 from another client by abusing his position and misrepresenting the outcome of a debt settlement.

Detective Constable Nikki Thiim of Sussex Police Economic Crime Unit said: “This was a complex investigation which was delayed in coming to court due to procedural issues brought about by one of the defendants. These convictions have exposed the deceit and greed of a group of individuals who have consistently denied exploiting the trust placed in them by members of the public, and the theft of almost £1m.

“The court heard how their deception not only led to victims losing thousands of pounds but that Kenny’s action had directly contributed to Mr Foskett tragically taking his own life.”

Thiim added: “The fraud caused property transactions to fail, the theft of family inheritances and the dissipation of child trust funds.”

Following sentencing, Sussex Police will undertake a financial investigation to pursue the possibility of recovering assets held by the defendants under the Proceeds of Crime Act, so that wherever possible, compensation might be returned to the victims of the offences.

The defendants were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court.

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