Top lawyer jailed for stealing from elderly

Last updated 01:23 15/03/2008

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Lawyer David Stevenson's sense of impending Armageddon and depression with "political, geopolitical and economic world events" led him to take $211,800 from vulnerable clients.

It was Stevenson who campaigned against judges and MPs double dipping, leading to a ruling in 1992 by the Higher Salaries Commission limiting what they could earn on top of their pensions.

The Wellington lawyer is a former NZ First candidate and acted for MP Ruth Dyson on her drink-driving charge.

His own lawyer, Richard Laurenson, told the Wellington District Court sentencing judge yesterday that the irony and complete contradiction of how Stevenson had previously lived was not lost on him.

He had been a lawyer in Wellington since getting his law degree from Victoria University.

He had practised as a partner, then in later years as a sole practitioner, earning a modest income at Webb, Paris and Stevenson, his lawyer said.

Stevenson had pleaded guilty to three charges of using documents fraudulently, involving 40 false invoices to elderly clients and the estate of a deceased client. He took $211,800 by these means.

He was unable to pay any reparation and the offending had ruined his life.

Stevenson was not living a grand lifestyle and the only asset was a house which had been in his wife's name for years.

He had arrived at the age of 58 in modest circumstances and "depressed at political, geopolitical and economic world events ... and a sense of impending Armageddon."

Mr Laurenson said the offending was a bizarre aberration and asked for home detention.

Judge Peter Butler, however, said the money had been used for Stevenson's "selfish lifestyle".

Stevenson had overcharged an elderly woman who lived overseas and had a rental property here, an elderly woman in hospital and the estate of a person who had died.

When the district law society told him his accounts were to be audited, he owned up.

He handed in his practising certificate and was last year struck off. He is now unemployed.

Judge Butler jailed him for two years and three months.

He said the situation of Stevenson's wife, who has a head injury after a fall and needs care, caused him grave concern but Stevenson had known what he was doing and now had to live with the consequences.

He said no comparable case had resulted in home detention.

Serious Fraud Office prosecutor Luke Clancy opposed home detention and said Stevenson had spent the money for his own purposes and breached the trust of vulnerable clients.

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- The Dominion Post

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