Solicitor jailed for property fraud offences

Detail from the City of London Magistrates Court buildingManchester Crown Court has sentenced a conveyancing solicitor to seven years in prison after finding him guilty of three offences of money laundering over a period of five years, up to 2014.

Ross McKay’s involvement in the crime was uncovered through Operation Isidor, an investigation by the Economic Crime Unit which looked at the activities of criminal gang members.

McKay played a part in the £10 million property empire amassed by fraudster Scott Rowbotham, whose criminal gang laundered money from dealing drugs, tax evasion and property and mortgage fraud. Rowbotham was jailed in 2017 for three years and eight months, after admitting fraud and the use of laundered money to purchase a portfolio of 88 properties across Greater Manchester. Under the Proceeds of Crime Act, Rowbotham has been ordered to pay back more than £3.5 million of ‘gangster tax’ within three months, or face ten more years in prison.

Rowbotham used nominees on mortgage applications, exaggerated his income and forged payslips in order to persuade lenders to hand out large sums of money. Property values were also exaggerated in order to purchase houses without the need for deposits. Existing properties were then let out and remortgaged to fund further deals, and Rowbotham falsified sales to associates and family to raise even more cash.

Rowbotham enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle over an eleven year period, while declaring just £1,000 in earned income and paying just £18.20 in tax.

McKay carried out the conveyancing on over 80 of the gang’s properties without asking questions about the nature of their business or the source of funds.

The judge told McKay: “You were expected to be a person of utmost integrity and honesty. You fell far short of those high standards of professionalism, trust and integrity that are to be expected of a solicitor. You failed, as was your duty, to uphold the law and the proper administration of justice.

“By your actions, you enabled criminal property to be acquired on a significant scale and chose to involve yourself in the activities of those involved in crime, organised crime and, in the case of Mr Black, drug dealing.”

Convicted drug dealer, Billy Black, was another associate of the gang and was jailed for fifteen years for fraud, drug dealing and money laundering offences. His sentence was later increased to 22 years after he failed to pay the £999,999 ordered under a Proceeds of Crime hearing. Black’s own solicitor, Neil Bolton, fraudulently helped him build a property portfolio and was jailed in 2017 for nine months.

The senior financial investigator of Greater Manchester Police’s Economic Crime Unit, Adrian Ladkin, said: “McKay was fully aware that the purpose of the transactions was to launder criminal proceeds and he was deliberately dishonest in facilitating them. As a solicitor, McKay was in a position of trust, but he spectacularly failed in his legal duties through his corrupt and unlawful actions.

“It is thanks to the meticulous work of the officers in this case that today he has been brought to account for his deceitful actions.”

Proceeds of Crime Act 2002

The Proceeds of Crime Act, which came into force in 2013, allows police to pursue the assets of criminals after they have been convicted. Cash is split equally between the police and Home Office but, of the confiscated assets that are not cash, the Home Office receives half and the remainder is split equally between the police, courts and Crown Prosecution Service.

A judge can decide to award compensation to the victims of crime using the funds, and the proceeds are sometimes reinvested in policing, good causes and community projects.

Confiscated assets are disposed of in numerous ways, including auction houses and even eBay. So if you want to (legally) bag some cheap stolen property, you know where to look.

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