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Victorian lawyer jailed for ‘abhorrent’ $420k theft from clients

A former named principal of a Victorian law firm has been imprisoned for stealing $400,000 from the estates of two clients.

user iconNaomi Neilson 20 June 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 — will spend at least a year behind bars for the “abhorrent” theft from the estates of two deceased clients between April 2018 and October 2019.

In handing down a total sentence of 28 months imprisonment with a non-parole period of 12 months, County Court of Victoria’s Chief Judge Peter Kidd said the gravity of Roache’s offending “is too great to impose anything less than a term of imprisonment”.

“You come to the court having destroyed your reputation and legacy, which you worked so hard to achieve,” Chief Judge Kidd said.


“You have entirely lost your status in the community, particularly in the legal community, which you will never regain again; such are the consequences for practitioners who breach their client’s trust.”

Roache pleaded guilty to seven charges of obtaining property by deception in the County Court’s Geelong division in May.

From April to November 2018, Roache stole $300,000 from the estate of a client who died in 2009 over five separate transactions.

In October 2019, Roache stole $120,000 from a second client.

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

Roache created false letters addressed to the beneficiaries of the estates and false electronic fund transfer slips to cover the thefts.

Chief Judge Kidd said the thefts were “sophisticated and systematic”.

“While the courts often see higher sums involved in solicitor frauds, the sums here in total were not small,” Chief Judge Kidd said.

“You committed these offences while occupying a position of trust and responsibility as a legal practitioner (who was) responsible for administering the deceased’s estates.”

While some of the stolen funds went into keeping his failing company afloat, Roache said he also repaid loans from friends and sunk part of it into a “bizarre” scheme an elderly client introduced him to.

During the plea hearing, Roache’s barrister, Julian McMahon, said he sent the money to the client, who then invested it into the scheme. He had believed there was a “payday coming” as a result.

“I certainly do not punish you for being involved in any scheme,” Chief Judge Kidd said during his sentencing remarks.

Chief Judge Kidd heard Roache had been in such a financially difficult position that his only other option was to sell property.

“You found yourself in a chaotic and desperate spiral of robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Chief Judge Kidd said.

The court was told that at the time of these thefts, Roache was being investigated by the Legal Services Commissioner for borrowing money from a client. The client consented at the time.

Although this was “concerning” conduct, Chief Judge Kidd said he could not be satisfied this offending was “sufficiently similar” to the new charges to allow a conclusion it was of a “more brazen quality” and gave Roache the “benefit of the doubt”.

The court also heard Roache is suffering from frontotemporal dementia, which experts said means he needs supervision with dressing in the morning and communicating with others.

Chief Judge Kidd accepted that while this would make the imprisonment term more onerous for Roache, there are custodial services.

“It is highly unlikely you will ever offend again. You will never hold a practising certificate again. With your age and dementia, it is difficult to envisage you will ever be placed in a position of trust,” he said.

Chief Judge Kidd also made a compensation order to repay the money stolen from the estates. With the sale of two of Roache’s properties, the court heard the entire $420,000 can be returned.

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