A solicitor, a legal executive and an associate of a law firm have been convicted and sentenced to more than 14 years combined.
The trio were found guilty of the embezzlement of almost £700,000 of client funds over a seven year period at a Selsey-based law firm, following a nine week trial at Southwark Crown Court, police said.
Emma Coates, 47, of no fixed abode, but formally of Selsey, was sentenced to six years after being found guilty of two counts of fraud by abuse of position, according to police.
A spokesperson for Sussex Police said: “Between December 2008 and November 2011, when employed as a legal executive at CK Solicitors, Coates was responsible for making a series of transfers from the firm’s client accounts to her own.
“Following an intervention by the Solicitor Regulatory Authority (SRA), CK Solicitors was closed in 2011.
“Coates went on to establish Coates & Co and was able to defraud clients and steal funds coming into her possession when acting as an executor for local Selsey residents – this came to light during 2014 when the investigation was passed to officers of the Sussex Police Economic Crime Unit.
“During the six year period it emerged that Coates used client money to fund a lavish lifestyle – spending £10,000 on a hot tub, purchasing a Range Rover and financing a holiday to Barbados for herself and a group of friends.
“She regularly attended horse races at both Cheltenham and Goodwood, and at least some of the client money was used to finance monthly mortgage payments on a series of properties bought by her.”
Simon Kenny, 60, of Tudor Avenue, St Leonards was sentenced to six years after being found guilty of two counts of fraud by abuse of his position, police said.
The offences occurred between January 2007 and May 2011 while he was the principal solicitor at CK Solicitors as well as a district judge.
Kenny was convicted in respect of transferring client money to cover the money they had drawn from the firm.
A spokesperson from Sussex Police said: “The extent of Kenny’s deceit was exposed by the tragic death of the firm’s accountant, Robert Foskett, who realised that he had become unwittingly involved in the fraud – a realisation which troubled him so much that he ended up taking his own life, and naming Kenny in his suicide note.”
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 while acting as a freelance legal consultant associated to CK Solicitors, police said.
Hiseman, a long standing friend of Kenny, became involved in the transfer of £60,000 of client money which was diverted to his own foreign bank account, according to police.
He had earlier obtained £5,000 from another client by abusing his position and misrepresenting the outcome of a debt settlement, police added.
Dectective 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.
“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 these offences.