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Victorian lawyer sunk client’s money into ‘bizarre’ scam

A former Victorian principal lawyer has faced criminal charges for stealing $420,000 from two clients’ estates and sinking most of their money into a failing company and a “bizarre” financial scam.

user iconNaomi Neilson 29 May 2023 Big Law
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Kevin Roache, 82, the former director and principal lawyer of Coulter Roache Legal — now known only as Coulter Legal — pleaded guilty to seven charges of obtaining property by deception in the County Court of Victoria’s Geelong division on Monday (29 May).

Between April and November 2018, Roache stole $300,000 from one client’s estate across five transactions and stole a further $120,000 from another on two separate dates in October 2019.

The money was transferred into two bank accounts held by Trans Otway Travel, a company Roache has worked with since 1986. The company has since been assigned administrators and closed down.


Roache hid his transactions by creating false letters addressed to beneficiaries of the estates and false electronic fund transfer slips.

Prosecutor Greg Buchhorn said it was “very deliberate conduct” and Roache “should have known better” as a solicitor of 50 years.

“This was an egregious breach of trust by a person who should have known better. Being a legal professional, the community generally places a lot of faith in lawyers to act in their interests,” he said.

He was arrested in Geelong after two executors of the second estate were notified of the transfers of the $120,000.

When questioned by police, Roache admitted he was involved in all transactions, had generated false records and used Trans Otway’s bank accounts to disguise the transfers in case of auditors.

Roache told police his conduct was “stupid and wrong” and said he had convinced himself he could repay the money.

Roache’s barrister, Julian McMahon, said that despite a distinguished career and a lifetime of community service, he has “trashed his reputation and lost all his wealth”.

“He does face a dreadfully bleak future,” Mr McMahon said.

“Our client is deeply ashamed and remorseful for what he’s done. The ruin that has fallen upon him is a real punishment in itself.”

Mr McMahon told the court he used the money to repay loans, to keep the travel company afloat and to invest in a financial scam.

Roache came across the “bizarre” scam when he was introduced to it by a former client who is now aged in her 90s.

The submission was that money was sent to the client, who was the one who then transferred the money into the scam.

Mr McMahon said the client was sent emails and other documents “of the kind that most lawyers laugh at when they see them”.

“Over a fairly long period, he’s passing money to (the client) and in his mind, that’s because of the scam,” Mr McMahon said.

“It just makes no sense what he’s doing.”

Mr McMahon went on to explain that he “thought there was a payday coming” because the client had been tricked into believing the scam would return the payments with “a much bigger reward”.

In a victim impact statement, one of the beneficiaries of the second estate said he had been shocked when he learnt about the thefts.

“My family and I continue to suffer financial hardship as the stolen funds have still not been repaid,” the beneficiary said.

“I no longer feel safe trusting the legal profession in holding money in trust as I now feel those monies are at risk and not safeguarded.”

Roache surrendered his practising certificate several years ago following a separate civil matter.

Mr McMahon submitted that Roache’s age and his deteriorating condition of frontotemporal disorder should keep him out of jail.

However, Chief Justice Peter Kidd said it was a “bold submission” to seek anything other “than one that involves imprisonment”.

“The one thing against you is that this was not an isolated incident, and it was relatively calculated,” Chief Justice Kidd said.

The matter will return for sentencing at a later date.

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