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WA solicitor removed from roll for stealing elderly client’s life savings

A solicitor based in Perth has been struck from the roll, over a year after being sentenced to seven years behind bars for stealing $1.96 million from an elderly and deceased client.

user iconNaomi Neilson 15 May 2020 Big Law
Perth
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With almost $2 million funneled from trust accounts managed by her father’s firm, and her then-place of employment, Helen Tolson bolstered her husband’s business, paid off debts and purchased two new cars for her family. She was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of seven years and six months and has now been struck from the roll of practitioners.

Almost $978,000 was taken from a trust account that belonged to an elderly woman living in a nursing home. The rest was stolen from the estate of a deceased woman.

“The targeting of vulnerable people such as the elderly is despicable behavior,” read court documents from the WA Supreme Court. “As the community becomes more aware of the issue of elder abuse, it is my view that the courts need to send a strong message [to] those who take advantage of the elderly will be dealt with a severe punishment.”

 
 

When Ms Tolson was questioned by the relatives of the deceased woman, she told them a false story about it being invested in two bank term deposits. When the relative insisted the money be paid to them, she then claimed it was stolen by bank employees.

Her ruse was up when she wrote a letter pretending to be from a bank lawyer saying that the matter was being investigated. When the relative called the number on the letter, she picked up and, upon realising it was Ms Tolson, the relative contacted police.

To hide the theft from her father’s firm, Ms Tolson attempted to conceal by recording any withdrawal as a payment against a deceased estate for which she acted as a trustee. The final distribution was due to the beneficiaries of the state, but Ms Tolson recorded that the funds were being transferred from another deceased estate that she also acted for.

“Your dishonesty was gross. You engaged in a sophisticated plan to deceive your clients once they began to uncover your deception,” the judge said. “You told a number of lies and you impersonated fictitious people, being persons you created to cover up dishonesty.”

The court noted the removal from the roll is reserved for only “very serious cases”, where the character and conduct are inconsistent with the privileges of further practice. Ms Tolson did not oppose the removal of her name from the roll of practitioners.

“Your offending was a very serious example of offending of this kind. There are a number of aggravating features. The most obvious aggravating feature is that you were a lawyer who your clients were entitled to trust,” the court documents read.

“The gross breach of trust that you displayed towards them has no doubt destroyed their confidence in the legal profession and has the potential to ruin confidence more broadly.”