THE PUBLIC'S faith in the solicitors' profession took another blow last week when Charles Julian Deacon was sentenced to nine years in prison for his part in a series of multi-million pound advance fee frauds.
His co-defendant James Fuller was sentenced to seven years.
Deacon's conviction, on six counts of conspiracy to defraud and two counts of obtaining property by deception, came only weeks after Graham Durnford Ford admitted guilt on 10 specimen charges of stealing from the families of dead clients in a string of probate frauds totalling £5 million.
A lawyer at the Serious Fraud Office, which prosecuted this and the Durnford Fraud case, said: "The Deacon fraud could only take place because an English solicitor was trusted to keep clients' money safe. That was the guarantee the investors had."
Judge Fabian Evans, in sentencing Deacon and Fuller at the Guildhall, said Deacon used his position as a respected solicitor to deceive.
"Investors from abroad were particularly impressed by your status and membership of a profession which is generally regarded as one of the most honest and reliable in the world," he said.
He added that he could not overestimate the damage done to that profession.
Deacon and Fuller, allegedly with two others who have yet to be tried, defrauded individuals and companies around the world by taking cash as 'advance fees' for promised loans - usually around $50 million a time - which would never actually materialise.
They used a series of bizarre ruses, including forged letters allegedly from former US President George Bush and talk of CIA backing, while former nuts and bolts salesman Fuller even posed as, among other things, a nuclear physicist.
Partner Tony Miles, of law firm Howes Percival, a client of which had lost $2.2 million to Deacon, said: "The stories were so fantastic that they either had to be true, or a pack of lies from the start."
The indictments against the two defendants involved promised loans of around £300 million, and an actual financial gain to them of $19 million, of which up to $14 million is still missing.
The crimes occurred between June 1990 and March 1992.
However, during the trial, Deacon began referring to other frauds committed in the previous four years.
Among the victims was the pension fund of the now collapsed Belling company.
Fund trustees Law Debenture Trust won £600,000 from the Law Society towards the fund's £2.25 million losses.
The Solicitors Complaints Bureau has £2 million in other UK claims, plus $4.5 million US claims pending.
Lawyers at Chabra Cass & Co and Alexander Johnson confirmed, respectively, that Deacon and Fuller are likely to appeal.
Two defendants in Finland were convicted recently in relation to the frauds, SFO sources confirmed.