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Local lawyer debarred, facing criminal charges

Lindsay Gribben stole $900,000 over nine years

KAREN COLTMAN
[email protected]

Former Wairarapa lawyer Lindsay Boyd Gribben was struck off the roll of barristers and solicitors last week, for misappropriating more than $900,000 over a nine-year period.

The action by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal came after WCM Legal’s discovery of two financial irregularities in its accounts in 2018.

It led to them bringing in the police and the termination of Gribben’s contract with them on December 7, 2018. At the time, Gribben had been with the firm for two years, as a principal [director].

He was a partner at Major Gooding and Partners from 1996 to 2016. It was while with the former company most of the fraud occurred. Gribben debited $812,165 of funds from a trust account held on behalf of a couple, who were based overseas, and their company.

Former principal at WCM Legal, Keith McClure said the team were, “horrified by Lindsay Gribben’s actions”.

“We immediately removed Lindsay Gribben from the practice and we proactively asked The New Zealand Law Society to undertake an urgent audit.

“The audit confirmed the two irregularities in our own accounts, and those were resolved immediately once we discovered them.

“We take our responsibilities to our clients extremely seriously. At the time we sought outside support to make sure this high level of care hadn’t been affected. No other clients were involved.

“We worked closely with the law society and they have given us confirmation that no other clients or their funds were affected.”

Gribben admitted to Judge Dale Clarkson that he misappropriated a total amount of $901, 294 over a nine-year period from September 2009 to November 2018, when WCM Legal caught him. At least 170 transactions have been traced.

Some of the funds have since been repaid.

Gribben admitted four charges of misconduct based on the grounds that it would be ‘regarded by lawyers of good standing as disgraceful or dishonourable’ and; it consisted of ‘reckless contravention of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006’.

In a media statement the tribunal said: “Aggravating the offending was the fact that some of the clients resided overseas and were reliant on Mr Gribben’s honesty in operating accounts for them in New Zealand and acting on major transactions on their behalf.”

One victim has said they ended up out of pocket by at least $300,000, including fees.

Judge Clarkson said on Thursday that it was a shocking indictment on the practitioner which brought his entire profession into disrepute.

Two of the other defrauded clients were elderly people residing in rest homes.

According to evidence, Gribben compounded his misdeeds by blaming one of his elderly clients, saying he was “known to be spendthrift” and suffered from a mental disorder.

“Such appalling treatment of his client is inexcusable,” the tribunal said.

The final client affected by the dishonesty was an estate with charities as beneficiaries.

The tribunal stated: “A lawyer’s handling of trust funds is at the very heart of the fiduciary relationship between lawyer and client and the obligations must be treated as sacrosanct. When they are breached in such a gross way there can be no other penalty than removal of the practitioner from the profession entirely.”

Gribben was born in the South Island and practised law in Timaru, Balclutha and Oamaru before coming to Wairarapa in 1996. While working out of the WCM Legal office he had a large client base in the Eketahuna area. He also served as chairman of the Makoura College Board of Trustees.

Gribben told the tribunal that he is bankrupt and unemployed. It’s thought he is now living in the South Island.

Criminal charges have been laid, and the tribunal said if he was convicted he would likely face a custodial sentence.

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