A BARRISTER siphoned more than $1.23 million from an elderly man’s bank accounts and used some of the cash to buy cars for women he wanted to be in a relationship with, a court has heard.
Police later found $340,000 in cash in a safe buried in a shed at his Harcourt North home, south of Bendigo.
Former Bendigo barrister Euan Vance, 53, who now lives in Queensland, told police after his arrest that he had taken the money to try to protect his client, George Cutts, from the global financial crisis.
Vance pleaded guilty in the Supreme Court on Monday to a number of charges including making a false document, obtaining a financial advantage by deception and obtaining property by deception.
Crown prosecutor Daryl Brown said that by 2009 Mr Cutts, a retired electrical engineer, was 88, living in a nursing home and had assets worth an estimated $2 million.
Mr Cutts had emigrated to Australia from the United Kingdom in 1962 and his only living relative was a niece living in the UK.
When a woman who had been his power of attorney died suddenly of a heart attack in August 2009, Mr Cutts asked nursing home staff to contact Vance so he could make a new will.
Vance had helped Mr Cutts sell his Kangaroo Flat house a year earlier.
Vance and his secretary, Jessica Taylor, went to see Mr Cutts before
Vance was appointed his financial power of attorney, giving him access to Mr Cutts’ bank accounts.
The prosecutor said Ms Taylor believed Mr Cutts had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease or something similar at the time and was shaking so much he couldn’t sign the required documents. Ms Taylor signed them for him.
The signatures of two other witnesses were then allegedly forged.
Mr Brown said Vance began withdrawing money from Mr Cutts’ accounts and used some of the cash to buy cars for female staff, including Ms Taylor.
Ms Taylor eventually quit her job in 2011 because Vance was always asking her to leave her boyfriend and marry him, the prosecutor told the court.
Vance had also allegedly given her expensive gifts including jewellery, a handbag, clothes, cash to spend on a holiday, and paid for her rent.
Ms Taylor got the impression Vance was wealthy and came from a wealthy family.
Mr Brown said another female staff member would often see Vance with large wads of cash and the barrister offered to buy her a $19,000 car as part of an interest-free loan.
The woman stopped working for Vance after he sent her text messages saying he wanted to have a relationship with her.
Another female employee claimed Vance asked her to wear short skirts and revealing tops when she worked for him in 2010 and sent text messages to her telling her how good looking she was.
Vance arranged to buy her a $12,000 car but she quit because his text messages made her feel uncomfortable.
Mr Brown said Vance told the woman she did not have to repay him for the car as it was a gift.
The prosecutor said Vance gave another female employee a $3000 engagement ring and insisted she keep it as a friendship ring.
Vance also allegedly bought a female client he had befriended a $6800 car and told her he wanted to be in a relationship with her, but she made it clear their relationship was purely professional.
Mr Brown said when Vance was arrested in July 2011 he had $10,000 in cash in his coat pocket.
Vance told police his duties as Mr Cutts’ financial power of attorney included moving money around to safeguard it from the global financial crisis.
He insisted he had used the money lawfully and not for his own benefit. His motivation was in the best interests of the late Mr Cutts.
Police later found $340,150 in cash in a safe buried in the ground in a shed at Vance’s home.
He denied trying to have relationships with any of his staff or clients, and claimed Mr Cutts had told him to use some of his money to help single mothers.
The plea hearing, before Justice Michael Croucher, continues.