Criminal defence lawyer Michael Bosscher and two employees of law firm Bosscher Lawyers in Brisbane, have been charged with fraud offences after a joint investigation by the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) and Queensland Police Service (QPS) into suspected criminal activity in the legal profession.
48-year old Mr Bosscher, who is the firm’s principal, has been charged with ‘aggravated fraud’ arising from allegations that he dishonestly applied trust funds. The offence carries a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment.
He has also been charged with eight counts of fraudulently falsifying records, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Bosscher’s employee, 32-year old solicitor Alex Jones, and former law clerk 29-year old Tom Strofield, have also been charged with aggravated fraud.
The trio were arrested and taken to the Brisbane Watchhouse where they were formally charged and granted bail.
Response by legal profession
Queensland Law Society (QLS) president Christine Smyth said the professional body had been aware of the probe for some time and was cooperating with investigators.
“Unfortunately this matter does cast a dark cloud over the broader legal community”, she acknowledged.
“It’s extremely disappointing when any lawyer betrays the trust and the faith that the public puts in them and the QLS takes this matter very seriously,” she stated.
“The public deserves answers when a lawyer is charged and found guilty of committing criminal acts”.
Ms Smyth added that, “[t]here are more than 12,000 ethical, dedicated and hardworking solicitors across Queensland whose reputation is no doubt called into question in these rare occasions when lawyers are alleged to have participated in criminality”.
It is important to bear in mind that, like anyone else, accused lawyers are presumed innocent until and unless they are found guilty in a court of law.
Not the first time
This is not the first time a lawyer from the firm has been charged with criminal offences.
As previously reported, senior solicitor Tim Meehan was sentenced to five and a half years in prison after pleading guilty to a scheme whereby he took “well in excess of $600,000” from 19 clients and failed to deposit the money into the firm’s trust account.
During Mr Meehan’s sentencing hearing, the prosecutor submitted that the motivation for the conduct was “pure greed”. The Supreme Court justice later told Meehan:
“Your conduct has put you into disrepute and it also brings the legal profession into disrepute…It serves to feed the public perception that lawyers are greedy and self-serving, whereas by ethical obligations and statute and their obligation to the legal profession and the court, they must not be.”
Fraud in NSW
Section 192E of the NSW Crimes Act 1900 makes it an offence to obtain property belonging to another, or obtain any financial advantage or cause a financial disadvantage to another, where this is done dishonestly by any deception.
To be found guilty, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:
- The defendant acted dishonestly and by a deception, and by doing so
- Created a financial advantage over another person’s property, or caused them to suffer a financial disadvantage, and
- The actions were intentional or reckless.
The maximum penalty is 10 years’ imprisonment in the District Court, or 2 years if the case remains in the Local Court.
In addition to being criminally prosecuted, lawyers who engage in such professional misconduct are liable to removal from the roll of practitioners; which is also known as being ‘struck off”.