Friend's betrayal takes toll

By Andrew Koubaridis

Lawyer's $1 million bill to sort out leaky-home dispute leaves couple with virtually nothing

Min and Alan Wilson count their blessings in spite of health and financial woes.
Min and Alan Wilson count their blessings in spite of health and financial woes.

An Auckland man who paid a former golfing buddy hundreds of thousands of dollars in "grossly" overcharged legal fees says the ordeal has cost him health and almost everything he owns.

Alan Wilson, 71, and his wife Min, 67, sold their home, business and other belongings to pay lawyer Eion Castles more than $1 million to sort out a dispute over a leaky home.

But Mr Castles charged them almost $600,000 too much. He billed them $1,030,000, well above the $436,000 cost assessors estimated his work would have cost.

Mr Castles was found guilty of overcharging, struck off the Law Society register, and ordered to repay the money.

However, Mr Wilson, speaking for the first time about the case, isn't confident of getting any money back because Mr Castles was declared bankrupt after the hearing.

"As far as we're concerned we're not in a good place at all," Mr Wilson said yesterday.

The small two-bedroom cottage in Northcote is a long way from the family home in Remuera they sold to pay for the legal fees.

"We've sold a lot of stuff and we're going to have to sell more because the chances of getting a house that will accommodate all the stuff we have in storage and around the place is not very likely."

They'd had "five or six years into knowing we'd been duped" but were still devastated by what had happened.

"It's certainly taken its toll on both of us. My wife continues to work which is not a situation we want at all ... we're not where we should be ... I attribute the fact I have cancer to the whole problem."

He got sick after the money problems began in 2009 and says the stress of losing things he and his wife had worked hard for had contributed to his ill-health.

Despite all that he tried not to be angry.

"I'm bitterly disappointed in what we thought was a friendship collapsing ... We try not to be angry, it's not healthy to be angry, but it's very difficult to move on now we have some finality and know there's no good way out of this."

Mr Wilson told the Herald he had been given a death sentence from cancer.

"I might last five years, I might last one but my wife enjoys great health and will probably go on for a long time but just not on much money."

The couple were trying instead to concentrate on what they did have and enjoy it.

"We have the support of our family and wonderful friends who have done amazing things for us and are so grateful for that."

A group of close friends set up a givealittle page after the Wilsons were left with virtually nothing. One of the friends who set up the page, who asked not to be named, helped them start the legal battle once he and his wife realised the amount they were being charged was too high.

"We smelled it ... and we said that's wrong, and they still had $11,000 to pay and they had nothing."

About $8400 had been raised by yesterday and the friend hoped for more. "What we would love to get is enough money to buy them a small unit to live in."

To donate: http://www.givealittle.co.nz/cause/minalan

- NZ Herald

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