Solicitor struck off for unintentionally aiding criminal activity
Neil Bolton has been struck off the roll of solicitors in disciplinary proceedings that followed his conviction and nine months' imprisonment for seven counts of failing to comply with Money Laundering Regulations and one count of failing to disclose information in the Regulated Sector.
The criminal and disciplinary proceedings came as a result of an investigation into Mr Bolton's arrangement of property transactions for a number of individuals that were subsequently convicted of mortgage fraud, tax evasion and drug offences.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (‘SDT’) heard that Mr Bolton had made a number of professional errors since 2006. Firstly, he had made a personal, unsecured loan of £60,000 to a client and in doing so breached Rule 3 of the 2007 Code of Conduct. Secondly, he had provided a banking facility through the firm’s client account and thus breached Rule 15(2) of the Solicitors Accounts Rules. Thirdly, he had failed to ensure that lender clients were advised of all the material facts in various property transactions and thus did not act in their best interest. Finally, he failed to comply with the 2007 Money Laundering Regulations and failed to disclose information in the Regulated Sector pursuant to sections 330 and 334 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
Through these blunders, Mr Bolton had failed to uphold the rule of law (Principle 1 of the SRA Principles 2011), failed to act with integrity (Principle 2) and failed to carry out business in a way that maintains the public trust and confidence in the profession (Principle 6).
Mr Bolton and the Solicitors Regulation Authority provided the SDT with an Agreed Outcome Document, and thus his matter was considered on paper. The Document outlined that, prior to being dismissed by his firm in 2014, Mr Bolton had omitted to provide material information to clients throughout conveyancing transactions. It further detailed that Mr Bolton had failed to obtain adequate identification from clients, failed to provide the required client care information or terms of business and had failed to evidence calls and correspondence with clients when the firm was investigated. In addition, it was found that there were an unusually high proportion of cash deposits, third party payments and ledger discrepancies. The Document also noted the relevance of the outcome of the aforementioned criminal proceedings and HHJ Field’s sentencing remarks that, Mr Bolton had made ‘no serious attempt to comply with regulations and had helped his client launder £400,000.’
In mitigation to the SDT, it was stated that the facilitation of mortgage fraud was unintentional. Mr Bolton had made no personal gain from the transactions and, historically, had had an exemplary record. There was, furthermore, no evidence of deliberate dishonesty. Mr Bolton did, however, agree that his name should be removed from the roll. He was ordered to pay £6,000 in costs.
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