Page last updated at 15:10 GMT, Monday, 5 October 2009 16:10 UK

Former lawyer jailed for stealing

Michael Karus
Michael Karus, 48, earlier pleaded guilty to embezzling 413,052

A former lawyer who embezzled over £400,000 from a dead woman's estate to pay off his own debts, has been jailed for three-and-a-half years.

Michael Karus, 48, earlier pleaded guilty to embezzling £413,052 while acting as the executor of the estate of Edith Hampton, who died in 2003.

The former teacher left the cash to her cousin's daughter, June Pirie.

But before Mrs Pirie even knew about the fortune, Karus had already used it to settle debts in his own law firms.

Sheriff Derrick McIntyre sitting in Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Monday told Karus: "This was a grave breach of trust.

"You were formerly a solicitor, having been suspended by the Law Society in 2002.

"In my view the public are entitled to expect people like you, acting in a position of trust, to display the utmost integrity. You have clearly failed to do so in this case."

Not only did Michael Karus abuse his power as Ms Hampton's lawyer, but he also broke her trust and was able to profit considerably from his deception
Det Sgt Alan Dickie
Lothian and Borders Police

Karus put £115,000 into Edinburgh Metropolitan Properties, of which he was a director, £82,000 to Karus & Co pension fund, £60,000 to a judicial factor to clear the law firm's debts and between £3000 and £5000 for his credit card debts.

Karus told HM Customs and Excise and Mrs Pirie, when he met her at Miss Hampton's funeral, that all the proceeds of the estate had gone to Cancer Research.

The charity had made numerous attempts to communicate with Karus.

Defence counsel, Ian Duguid QC, said Karus had been in the middle of an acrimonious divorce and his mother was suffering from dementia.

His personal difficulties had "clouded his judgement".

Sentencing Karus, Sheriff McIntyre said his starting point was five years, but he would reduce that by six months as the guilty plea had saved a lengthy trial.

'Extremely pleased'

Furthermore, he said, because Karus had lodged £500,000 with the court to cover the embezzled sum which in due course would go to Miss Hampton's beneficiary, Mrs Pirie, he would reduce the sentence by a further 12 months to three-and-a-half years.

Lothian and Borders Police said it was are "extremely pleased" with the sentence.

Det Sgt Alan Dickie, of Lothian and Borders police, said: "Not only did Michael Karus abuse his power as Ms Hampton's lawyer, but he also broke her trust and was able to profit considerably from his deception.

"Following extensive enquiries by the specialist fraud unit, we were able to build up a significant body of evidence against Mr Karus and were confident the courts would find in favour of that evidence."

Philip Yelland, director of regulation at the Law Society, said: "Honesty is paramount in solicitors' dealings with their clients. Mr Karus has clearly breached this fundamental principle of being a solicitor."

"Once the society has official notice of his sentence from the courts, we will be able to raise a formal complaint against him to allow us to prosecute Mr Karus before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal."



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