A LAWYER who siphoned more than $1.2 million from an elderly client's bank accounts and used some of the cash to buy cars for female staff he wanted to be in a relationship with has been jailed for four years and six months.
Euan Vance, 53, told police after his arrest that he had taken the money to try to protect his 90-year-old client, George Cutts, from the global financial crisis.
Police later found $340,000 in cash in a safe buried in a shed hidden under a dirt floor at Vance's Harcourt North home, south of Bendigo. When Vance was arrested in July 2011, he had $10,000 in cash in his coat pocket.
Supreme Court Justice Michael Croucher said on Friday that Vance, who pleaded guilty to a number of charges including making a false document, obtaining a financial advantage by deception and obtaining property by deception, had been involved in "thoroughly disgraceful behaviour" when using an infirm, elderly client's money in "a sad attempt to buy the affections of others".
Justice Croucher said he was satisfied Vance had used the money for his own purposes and it was troubling more than $400,000 was still missing.
Vance had spent most of the money on cars for female staff and on two properties, including one he used as an office, but claimed not to know where the missing $400,000 had gone.
Justice Croucher ordered Vance, who was admitted to practice law in 2003, be struck off the roll of legal practitioners in Victoria.
Vance, a former Presbyterian church minister and Army chaplain who represented himself during his plea hearing, had claimed he did not use a single dollar from Mr Cutts' accounts for his own purposes.
He admitted forging witness signatures to gain Mr Cutts' power of attorney allowing him to access Mr Cutts' accounts but denied buying cars for several female staff members to try to win their affections, saying he was just a friendly person.
Vance said Mr Cutts had told him to use 30 per cent of the money to help single mothers.
Justice Croucher said Vance's claims were nonsense and he had been involved in a gross breach of trust. His calculated behaviour had the potential to erode public confidence in the legal profession.
It was a sad day for the legal profession when one of their number could behave in such a way, the judge said.
Vance was jailed for four years and six months with a non-parole period of two years and three months.
Vance, who now lives in Queensland with his second wife, had told the court of his embarrassment over private diary notes written on his laptop computer revealing his feelings for a female employee who had rejected him for another man.
He made the entry about staff member Jessica Taylor, a single mother of two, on July 6, 2011, after separating from his wife of 23 years more than a year earlier.
With The Age