A FUGITIVE former solicitor has been jailed after he was arrested in South Africa following over a decade trying to escape justice for theft and fraud involving more than £1m.
John Fitzpatrick, who was struck off the Roll of Solicitors in March 2002, was yesterday sentenced at Sheffield Crown Court to six years’ imprisonment for theft and fraud offences.
He pleaded guilty on November 11, 2013, to two charges of obtaining money transfers by deception and seven charges of theft representing £1,157,000. The offences took place between 1997 and 2001 and were investigated by West Yorkshire Police.
Passing sentence Judge Robert Moore said: “John Fitzpatrick joined with others in two quite spectacular mortgage frauds.
“The final theft deserved special mention as John Fitzpatrick was so desperate for money at that stage to avoid an inevitable investigation, he stole £100,000 of client money.”
All of the charges Fitzpatrick admitted involved offences against his clients, acting in breach of the trust that they placed in him as their solicitor.
The two charges of obtaining money transfers by deception related to his role as a solicitor facilitating mortgage frauds which formed part of an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO)and West Yorkshire Police, which led to charges against five other people in November 2004 and against a woman in July 2009.
The SFO said Fitzpatrick would have been tried alongside them had he not fled the country in an attempt to evade justice.
The SFO said yesterday that he had acted as a facilitator to a dishonest mortgage broker and his client in a fraudulent back-to-back property sale at an inflated price defrauding the mortgage lender and involving forged documents and identity theft. Fitzpatrick was said to be the instigator, prime mover and principal beneficiary of another mortgage fraud, both on the mortgage lender and his own client.
The SFO said seven counts of theft involved Fitzpatrick stealing clients’ money. Three counts related to theft of funds entrusted to him in the course of the victims buying or selling a home.
One victim was left jobless and homeless as a result of Fitzpatrick stealing money intended for the purchase of a home and business. Another arrived to move in at the home he believed he had bought only to find it had not been sold to him at all and Fitzpatrick had stolen the purchase funds.
Four counts related to theft of funds entrusted to Fitzpatrick for investment on the false promise of high returns, which were instead appropriated for his own purposes.
Following intelligence received on Fitzpatrick’s whereabouts, inquiries were undertaken in the Krugersdorp area of South Africa and an extradition request was made in August 2011.
Fitzpatrick, formerly of Liversedge, was arrested in May 2013 by the South African authorities while using the alias John Cooper.
He did not contest the extradition and an order was given for his surrender to the UK authorities.
He was repatriated with the assistance of officers from West Yorkshire Police.
Prosecuting, Andrew Bird said: “Mr Fitzpatrick let down the solicitor profession as a whole. He was robbing Peter to pay Paul. Had he not kept himself out of the country he would have been tried in 2004.”
Fitzpatrick’s barrister, Tahir Khan, said: “Mr Fitzpatrick was not motivated out of a desire to live the high life. He was a man who gained nothing but lost everything.”