Jail for the lawyer fraudsters

A district judge and his former lover who stole almost £780,000 from clients of their law firm so they could live an incredible party lifestyle were both jailed for six years today. (Fri)

Simon Kenny, 60, and his assistant Emma Coates, 47, ransacked the customers’ funds at CK Solicitors in Selsey, West Sussex for four years.

Coates who had ‘an instinct for excess and extravagance’ built up a property portfolio, spent £15,000 on a log cabin and a hot tub for her and Kenny to cavort in, and bought a Range Rover.

The fraudster also took 12 friends for a lavish trip to a resort in Barbados costing £27,000 and treated pals to an all expenses paid trip to the Cheltenham Festival.

She also swindled £85,000 from a elderly client’s will after she died.

Police later discovered she had been making mortgage payments on four properties – two in Selsey, and two others in Chichester and Bognor Regis.

But while the couple lived a life of luxury their accountant became so depressed that he killed himself.

The ex-lovebirds were given six years each in prison after turning on eachother during the trial.

Coates had shouted obscenities about Kenny’s manhood across the court and had to be silenced by the judge.

Kenny, wearing a dark blue knitted jumper remained emotionless while Coates, wearing glasses and scarf, with her hair up in a bun kept her eyes to the floor as they were sent down.

Judge Peter Testar decided to sentenced the devious couple on the basis of £777,519 rather than the near £1 million claimed by the prosecution.

He said:‘It is difficult to imagine a more spectacular breach of trust by someone running a legal practice to the clients of that practice.’

Kenny, who has business interests in the Far East, told staff he had moved cash to offshore accounts because of the Northern Rock bank crisis.

He and Coates had been lovers, but their affair cooled in 2010.

It led to the closure of CK Solicitors and a major investigation by the Sussex Police major fraud unit.

Kenny was suspended from his role as a deputy district judge at a county court in Sussex while he stood trial for two counts of fraud.

The company’s reporting accountant Robert Foskett committed suicide after he ‘realised he had been lied to’ about the plot.

Prosecutor Richard Milne said: ‘Mr Foskett’s dawning realisation in February 2011 that he had been duped back in 2009 appears to have been a major factor leading, tragically, to his suicide on 6 March 2011 – just two days before the commencement of the first of the relevant SRA investigations.’

Jurors saw his suicide note, which read: ‘I am so sorry but the pressure mounts on me. I was lured into signing an audit certificate by Simon Kenny which I should not have.

‘He assured me funds would be the following week from his family trust but that became untrue.’

Mr Foskett also left a note to his secretary which read: ‘It has been revealed to me that I think with Simon Kenny we have tumbled on a fraud that is probably £300,000, it may even be £600,000 or even more.

‘Quite nasty…unfortunately when people do this sort of thing they don’t care a damn who gets hurt.’

Kenny told Mr Foskett that the money had been sent abroad to protect it from the financial crisis.

Stephen Hiseman, 60, a ‘fee earner’ from CK Solicitors, also swindled two clients and was before the court.

He will be sentenced later today.

The court heard he ‘fraudulently caused the transfer of £60,000 from CK Solicitors client account to an account of Chris Coxill and then to an account in his name’ between November 2010 and March 2011.

Hiseman also told client Samuel Swanton he had settled his debts with Lombard North Central for £15,000 between June 2010 and December 2011 – but he had actually only settled for £10,000, forcing Mr Swanton to sell his house to raise funds.

The Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority shut down CK Solicitors in May 2011, but within months Coates had set up another firm, Coates and Co, and stole £85,000 from an elderly client’s will when she died in 2011.

Coates was on bail at the time.

Mr Milne told jurors: ‘Over a period of several years client monies were misappropriated by Simon Kenny, Emma Coates and Stephen Hiseman.

‘In the case of Mr Kenny and Miss Coates, the misappropriation mainly took the form of diverting client money from the company’s client account to the office account and then spending that money not in relation to the client matter in question, but for their own use or for the use of the firm.’

He denied involvement in the crime and even claimed Coates must have hacked his email account and sent messages in his name to pull off the scam alone.

Mr Milne said Kenny, an Australian national, was a potential flight risk because ‘even if his passport was surrendered there would be no problem with him leaving the jurisdiction and going to an Australian embassy’ to get travel documents.

He added: ‘It’s not the most difficult thing for a determined fugitive from justice to do.’

The court heard Kenny had been looking to move abroad before the trial and has ‘business interests in the Far East’.

Stephen Wedd, defending Kenny, said: ‘The word has got round at Wandsworth and Mr Kenny is in the protection wing there given his former role as a deputy judge.’

He said Kenny did not have any businesses in Australia or South East Asia but would inherit his father’s business interests.

‘Simon Kenny is ruined in every way.’

Richard Wormald, defending Coates, conceded she was ‘ using a solicitor’s firm as a personal piggy bank’ must be frowned upon.

‘Like Mr Kenny she is ruined,’ he said.

‘The difference between Emma Coates you see in the dock and the Emma Coates as she was before, she is only 47, but she looks much older.’

‘It was this folly, and it was a folly, that led to her ruin as well as his.’

‘Whatever the maths it is correct way, in this case is by way of a total figure in mind.’

Sentencing Kenny Judge Testar said: ‘Kenny was using client’s money and kept clients money to keep the firm going and in practice day to day when it was in fact insolvent.

‘In count two it was possibly to allow Emma Coates’ spending.’

Judge Testar said it was Coates that was more involved in the day to day running of the practice.

He said: ‘As far as she is concerned I am entirely satisfied that she has an instinct for excess and extravagance.

‘Taking a party to Barbados in the spring of 2010, it cost in excess of £27,000.

‘She ran up a large bill at Cheltenham Festival and made mortgage payments on properties she owned.

‘This money from CK would not have been available if it had not been taken from the client account.

‘If there was any money for the taking in order to meet what she regarded was her needs she took it.’

‘It is difficult to imagine a more spectacular breach of trust by someone running a legal practice to the clients of that practice.’

‘She has shown no regret or remorse for the effect of her conduct on others.’

Judge Testar handed Kenny a six year stretch for both charges of fraud to run concurrently.

He gave Coates six years for the £352,728 fraud and one year £85,000 to run concurrently.

Kenny, of St. Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, was given six years for two counts of fraud totalling £692,519 after he made ‘fraudulent transfers of monies between the firm’s client account, office account, and himself’.

Coates, of Bognor Regis, West Sussex, was also given six for two counts of fraud totalling more than £437,728, she was cleared of another two counts of fraud.

Hiseman, of Morzine, France, will be sentenced later today for two counts of fraud.

A confiscation hearing will take place on 11 May.