An Auckland lawyer has been jailed for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from his clients during a premeditated and sophisticated scheme over several years.
Bruce Harvey Reid, who preyed upon people suffering from ill health, has also lost a last- gasp legal challenge to stay out of prison. He will now serve a two years and five months' prison term.
The Weekend Herald can now reveal his criminal offending following the unsuccessful appeal to the High Court.
It followed the 68-year-old solicitor's sentencing in the Auckland District Court after guilty pleas to 15 charges of theft by a person in a special relationship, false accounting and criminal breaches of trust.
The sole practice lawyer's fraud was uncovered after a review as part of the inspection programme by the New Zealand Law Society in November 2015.
The review uncovered some concerning transactions for trusts handled by Reid, leading to a more thorough investigation.
It identified six clients from whom he had misappropriated $357,831.
His victims included a stroke patient, and a trust set up to provide for a dementia patient and their four children, court documents show.
Only about $7941 was repaid by Reid during the time he was stealing money from his clients. To conceal one fraud, Reid issued a statement to the trustees which showed a loan repayment at a higher figure.
Following the discovery of his offending, however, Reid did pay - with the help of family members or inheritance - some $214,645 in reparation.
The balance owed to the victims, $139,743, was then repaid by the Law Society Fidelity Fund.
When sentencing Reid last November, Judge Nevin Dawson said: "The gravity of the offending and the degree of culpability in your offending are both high."
He said as a lawyer, Reid well understood what constituted theft and knew full well the trust bestowed upon lawyers by their clients.
Judge Dawson said the "magnitude and sophistication" of Reid's crimes aggravated his offending.
"There were many transactions across several victims over several years. The extent of the loss is high," the judge said.
"There was a chronic abuse of trust in relation to the victims who were entitled to rely upon you and they were very vulnerable to your offending because of the reliance they placed upon you.
"There is a high degree of premeditation in your offending because there were many transactions continued over many years. You got away with it so you continued to offend."
The value of Reid's prior good standing in the community was also minimised, Judge Dawson said.
"You are a person previously of good character however against that must be weighed that you were offending over many years, so any discount for good character is minimal because of that ..."
A pre-sentence report showed Reid felt "regret, embarrassment and shame".
Judge Dawson allowed discounts for health, lack of previous convictions and age, remorse, and efforts to make reparation.
He also deducted some 13 months for guilty pleas, although he noted the evidence against Reid was strong.
Reid was also ordered to pay reparation of about $200,000, some $139,743 to the New Zealand Law Society Fidelity Fund and $59,183 to a trust.
On appeal, Reid's lawyer Martin Hislop said Judge Dawson failed to consider the impact of the sentence on Reid's life partner, the amount of reparation paid, and personal mitigating circumstances.
But Justice Susan Thomas accepted Crown lawyer Robin McCoubrey's argument that, as a lawyer of long-standing, Reid was well aware of the prospect of imprisonment.
"Despite knowing the fragile state of his partner's health, he embarked on the premeditated offending and continued and expanded that offending over a number of years," Justice Thomas said.
"I would also observe that it was Mr Reid's standing in the community which enabled him to offend as he did," she said, dismissing the appeal.
Reid was earlier struck off the roll of barristers and solicitors by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal after misappropriating funds.