Flawed genius rises again

The high-flying Irish solicitor Elio Malocco relished his days in court. Some of his cases made front-page news – in Britain as well as Ireland – making him a media star. Handsome, urbane and articulate, he was sought after by camera crews and reporters alike.

Malocco was once one of the best-known faces in the Irish legal profession, a regular on TV news programmes and in gossip columns. And as if that was not enough, his wife Jane was a de Valera – a member of Ireland's most celebrated political dynasty. They lived, with baby David, in Dublin's most fashionable suburb: Foxrock. Two Porches and a Mercedes in the expansive driveway testified to the family's good life.

By the age of 30, while his contemporaries were still struggling in the nether world of conveyancing, Malocco was a partner in a firm dealing with property, announcing takeover plans and revelling in the spotlight of high-profile cases. Such was the media interest in his work that he once claimed to have changed his personal telephone number six times to escape the excessive attentions of the tabloids.

That was just over a decade ago. Malocco's most recent appearance, just before Christmas, in the Irish High Court in Dublin was a very different affair. This time there was no press posse pursuing him for a quote, just sympathetic nods of acknowledgement for the one-time whizz-kid solicitor, who had spent the past three years in jail for forgery and fraud.

Ironically, the man who once issued a flood of gagging writs against the British and Irish media, as a solicitor in an extradition case, was in court fighting an injunction aimed at gagging him as editor of the recently launched Irish men's magazine Patrick.

His reincarnation as an editor following his early release from prison last year came as a surprise. He has no previous experience in the field. In fact, the National Union of Journalists has so far not accepted his membership application, after a vote on his membership by the Dublin branch resulted in a tie.

In court, the government's senior counsel, while arguing for an injunction, described the former high-flyer as “a man who has cheated his clients and professional organisation out of tens of thousands of pounds, and a man on whose word no reliability can be placed.”

Not surprisingly, Malocco lost. He has been on a losing run for the past 10 years. First, he lost his career, then his marriage, followed by his home, his lifestyle and his freedom.

Former friends are stunned by his sudden fall from grace, although some thought a crash was inevitable. “He had a fatal character flaw – a touch of the Walter Mitties – that caused him to over-reach himself,” says one. “He was a brilliant lawyer and he had it made – he just kept pushing the limits until everything collapsed.”

Technically, Malocco is still a solicitor as the Irish Law Society begins proceedings that may result in him being struck off. However, since 1991 he has been banned from practising. Eight years ago, when the Irish fraud squad began investigating his affairs, the society moved in and closed down his firm.

Since then the company has paid out almost IRu2m in compensation to clients who lost money. About IRu500,000 of this went to the now defunct Irish Press newspaper group founded by the former Irish president, Eamon de Valera, back in the 1930s.

After his marriage into the de Valera family – Jane is a grand-daughter of the former president – Malocco was invited to join the Irish Press board and his firm took over the lucrative libel business of Irish Press's three national newspapers.

In 1993, with a six-figure sum missing from Irish Press's libel settlement fund, he was convicted of fraud and forgery involving u68,500 and sentenced to five years in jail. Malocco protested his innocence throughout the 11-day trial, as the jury heard of a complicated financial cover-up involving forged documents and signatures, as well as bogus bank stamps.

“He was 110 per cent guilty,” says an officer who was close to the investigation. He expresses regret that the prosecution did not prove that a much larger sum was involved.

Being led away in handcuffs to start his sentence was the ultimate shame and humiliation. It all began so differently.

Born 42 years ago in the Irish border town of Dundalk – the son of an Italian father and Irish mother, Malocco breezed through his legal studies at University College, Dublin, to qualify at the age of 21.

Two years later he set up in partnership with a college friend, Conor Killeen, in Dublin. Killeen & Malocco proceeded to rock the legal establishment by advertising its services on the back of Dublin buses.

Business prospered. So did some of Malocco's property deals, although an Italian restaurant venture in Dublin's upmarket Grafton Street collapsed with debts of more than IRu300,000. It should have been a warning.

For much of the 1980s, Malocco was rarely out of the news. He made a much publicised IRu1.3m bid for a leading Dublin football club, Shelbourne, and was pictured – tycoon-like – in the team dug-out sporting the club scarf. The bid foundered, but he quickly jumped back into the headlines with an offer to buy a Dublin radio station. Like the Shelbourne bid, it never got beyond the front page of the evening papers.

Two extradition cases in the late 1980s made Malocco big news on both sides of the Irish Sea.

The first involved Father Patrick Ryan, an Irish priest wanted in Britain for allegedly supplying bomb-making materials to the IRA. His extradition became a cause celebre with the Thatcher government and Fleet Street.

In the second case, Kevin McDonald, an official at the Irish embassy in London, was alleged by a British Sunday newspaper to have offered Irish passports for cash. But he fled back to Dublin, claiming diplomatic immunity and was refusing to return to face trial.

As solicitor for both men, Malocco was in the front line for the media siege the cases provoked. He revelled in the role to such an extent that he became almost as big a story as his clients themselves.

In the case of Ryan, Malocco issued 16 gagging writs to prevent press speculation about the outcome of the extradition hearing in the Irish High Court. Even the late Father Ted star Dermot Morgan, who had played the fugitive priest in a sketch, claimed to have received one.

Malocco followed that up by collecting £10,000 in damages from the Irish national broadcaster, RTE, which had lampooned him as a mafioso don. He took another £70,000 for libel from the News of the World.

On the face of it, he was not a man to mess with. But behind the media hype and headlines about million pound deals, Malocco was in deep trouble. His financial world was crumbling under the combined weight of heavy business losses and an excessively lavish lifestyle.

He tried desperately to cover the widening cracks – “robbing Peter to pay Paul”, as one former colleague put it – but time was running out.

When his Irish Press cover-up started to unravel, Malocco fled to the US and refuge with friends. He stayed for two years, enrolling in a film production course at New York University, where a tutor, unaware of his identity, would later describe him as the “brightest student in the class”.

Malocco, not noted for his modesty about personal achievements, went on to claim he had helped make two documentaries, worked on the set of a Wesley Snipes film and hung around with the likes of Mickey Rourke, Al Pacino, Robert de Niro and Woody Allen.

By the time he returned to face the music, his business partner, Killeen, had been given a one-year sentence for his role as an accessory, although the term was suspended after he had spent just six weeks in jail.

Malocco served his three years in an open prison in County Wicklow and the less salubrious surroundings of Dublin's Mount Joy Jail. During his sentence, Malocco managed to complete a degree in psychology, but his marriage did not last the distance.

Malocco's recent reappearance in the Irish High Court as editor of Patrick – a high-nipple-count glossy supposedly modelled on John Kennedy's American George – arose from action taken by a Dublin nightclub owner. He claimed an article in the first issue, alleging drugs were sold openly in his club, was defamatory and asked the court to prevent its publication.

Malocco argued that the article was factual and should not be halted. But during the hearing, it emerged that the two authors credited with writing the article – Declan Murray and Frank White – did not exist. Their names were pseudonyms for Malocco and one of his relatives.

That must have come as a shock to Patrick's publisher, Peter Laur, who in the first issue wrote: “Many thanks also to Frank White for his incisive and humourous reporting.” However, the court heard that very little information was available about Laur, whose address was given as “London”, and a company called Fanville, which purported to be the owner and publisher of the magazine.

The judge banned publication of the disputed article, and awarded court costs against Malocco.

The front-cover sticker over the missing drugs story, “Banned by order of the High Court”, probably boosted sales of the magazine, which largely follows the predictable formula of most men's magazines. But amid the sea of sex are two articles calculated to raise hackles.

One, written by Malocco, purports to be an investigation of the ownership of Irish Press shares and is provocatively headlined “Legacy of lies.” The second is an attack on the Law Society's moves to strike off Malocco and Killeen. It carries the headline: “Vengeance is mine saith the Law Society.” It is written by the non-existent Frank White.

Given doubts about ownership and funding, some media pundits claim the launch issue could become a collectors' item, as there may not be second.

However, Malocco promises not just monthly editions, but also a special Patrick website focusing on scandals. Among the topics due for exposure, he says, are rogue bankers, a judge alleged to have a bogus offshore account, “the failures of the Law Society”, “hypocrites” in politics, building scams and “scum journalism”.

The high flyer brought down by “a touch of the Walter Mitties” seems determined to force his way back into the spotlight.