Lawyer jailed for theft: 'You treated our trust fund like an ATM'

By Kaysha Brownlie -
Former Napier lawyer Gerald McKay, 74, was today jailed for theft and dishonesty. PHOTO FILE
Former Napier lawyer Gerald McKay, 74, was today jailed for theft and dishonesty. PHOTO FILE

A woman who says her former Napier lawyer treated her trust funds like an ATM machine is still fighting to reclaim the thousands of dollars.

Evelyn Evans, the owner of a trust fund which Gerald George McKay, 74, helped himself to read her victim impact statement today at Napier District Court before McKay was sentenced.

"You treated our trust fund like an ATM machine," she said.

Mrs Evans' looked McKay in the eye and said: "My dream was stolen by you."

In February an 11-member jury found McKay guilty of five counts of theft and another five of dishonestly using documents for pecuniary advantage. He was also found guilty on an eleventh representative charge of criminal abuse of trust.

During the eight-day trial evidence was heard from a number of witnesses, including trust holders and his account manager, Anne McAllister, who he tried to pin the blame on.

Judge Colin Doherty today handed McKay, of former Napier firm McKay Hill, a sentence of four and a half years imprisonment.

The starting point was six years' jail, but the Judge said there was no credit for plea because McKay took the matter to trial; no credit given for remorse, because he had none; no credit for co-operating, because he had not - the matter had been strung out for some years; and no credit for reparation because he could not pay any.

He was given a discount though for his ill health and abiding bail conditions before his trial.

McKay stole $566,900 from family trust funds and estates without his clients' authority between 2005 and 2010.

He converted trust funds from the McKay Hill Lawyers Trust Fund account for use that was not authorised.

He created false invoices which were backdated and totalled more than $1 million just after he had been served with a notice of a trust funds compliance review. The firm folded within days.

McKay's defence counsel Scott Jefferson noted his client's ill health and recent diagnosis of diabetes.

He said while his client would like to pay reparation to the people he had affected he was now rented, lived off Government super-anuation funds and had no means of doing so following a mortgagee sale of his former home.

Mrs Evans said the past five years had been stressful. Her husband had a major stroke in 2010 which left him paralysed and unable to speak.

He went into a private hospital at the cost of $4000 a month because the couple could afford it, or so they thought. That same week, she said she learned her funds had been stolen by McKay.

A trust account was set up to put money away for their four children; she said McKay had typed up the document for her, despite knowing there was no money.

"How could you do this to us Gerald, I worked for you."

"It was our retirement nest egg."

She said she phoned McKay for a number of years asking about the money and his answer was always that it would come through, "maybe next week".

Mrs Evans herself had ended up in hospital twice with breathing difficulties due to stress.

Judge Doherty said there were many aggravating features in the case, one of the most being that McKay blamed his staff for the offending.

He said McKay had taken no responsibility throughout the trial.

"The breach of trust is high...the solicitor-client relationship is based on trust."

He said McKay was so trusted one of his clients even referred to him as God.

The Judge said the Law Society's fidelity fund had paid some people some of their stolen funds but there were rules in places which meant they could not pay everyone, including Mrs Evans.

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