Former lawyer Tracey-Anne Smith who scammed elderly clients exits court after defrauding WWII refugee
A Gold Coast lawyer struck off in two states for scamming the estates of elderly clients has been released after being convicted of defrauding an 87-year-old WWII refugee who survived the Nazi regime.
- Magistrate called Tracey-Anne Smith offense “out of character”
- Smith doesn’t have to pay compensation to clients she defrauded
- She was struck off as a lawyer for Queensland and New South Wales in a separate decision
Former lawyer Tracey-Anne Smith, 50, was today given a three-year suspended prison sentence for taking $ 60,000 from Lydia Juss’s estate.
The sentence comes days after an application accepted by the Queensland Legal Services Commission (QLSC) to have her struck off in both Queensland and New South Wales.
Today, Southport Magistrates’ Court heard that at the time of her offense Smith’s marriage “had dissolved” and that she had lost her career and income.
His lawyer, Cameron Browne, said Smith had had a long battle with anxiety and depression and suffered from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Magistrate John McInnes described the offense as “out of character” and took into account Smith’s significant depression and anxiety.
âAt the time of the offense, I concluded that you were acting with a modified level of moral culpability,â Magistrate McInnes said.
“The offense considered in isolation is serious because it is a withdrawal of money which was the object of the confidence of a person whose professional obligations made it particularly serious.”
Magistrate McInnes ruled that Smith did not have to pay any compensation.
The $ 60,000 she withdrew from Ms Juss’s estate was repaid by the Queensland Law Society Loyalty Fund.
“Guilty of professional misconduct for deceiving eight elderly clients”
Legal sources said the remainder of the $ 175,000 she had dishonestly obtained from her elderly clients was also refunded through the loyalty fund.
On October 25, the Queensland Civil Administration Court (QCAT) released its findings that Smith was guilty of professional misconduct for deceiving and defrauding eight elderly clients, including Ms Juss.
The disciplinary case was brought before QCAT by the QLSC, which raised 12 counts of misconduct in 2018.
QCAT discovered that Smith would ask his clients to draft their wills, which included recommending that his firm manage the estate, and then appointing himself as executor and / or power of attorney.
Smith was the sole practitioner in his firm Smith Legal Solutions, specializing in estate law.
She was admitted as a lawyer under her maiden name of Brewer in 1994.
Legal sources told the ABC it was looking for potential clients at nursing homes and retirement homes.
In its findings, QCAT said Smith’s misconduct included his fabrication of false invoices “thus giving an air of legitimacy and charging excessively excessive fees.”
QCAT noted that, as part of its investigation, the QLSC appointed a cost assessor who found that the amounts Smith was charging their elderly clients for “work” were 90% more than reasonable fees and in some cases. , she was billing twice for work already done.
It was also found that Smith did not keep records or prepare invoices for the work and that she transferred money from her clients’ trust accounts to her general account.
The QCAT discovered that the first misconduct incident occurred in 2012 and that the âfraudulent taking of moneyâ took place over a period of approximately three years.
Smith’s involvement delayed the wish to die
As ABC News revealed in May, it was the actions of retired Queensland detective Rod Shelton that helped expose Smith’s fraudulent activities.
Mr Shelton, who lived next door to Ms Juss and her husband Leo Artemeiff on the Gold Coast, was trustee of Ms Juss’s estate.
His role in the estate meant that the QLSC could access the legal records of Ms. Juss’s estate as Mr. Shelton, and Smith couldn’t use legal privilege to stop an outside review of his business.
Six of QLSC’s 12 charges against Smith involved estate or power of attorney matters where she was at fault by not answering questions or taking appropriate action.
This included postponing the release of funds to pay for the headstone of Ms Juss and her husband – also a World War II refugee who had been imprisoned by the Nazis.
Smith continued to defraud the $ 60,000 estate while ignoring Mr. Shelton’s repeated claims for nearly two years.
He launched a Supreme Court action in 2018.
Smith’s handling of Ms Juss’s estate also delayed her final wish to donate to charities of her late husband’s choice.
Outside of court, Mr Shelton said he was very disappointed that a lawyer in a position of trust had betrayed his client and was able to commit fraud.
“There is still $ 25,000 that Smith owes to Lydia’s estate which should be donated to charity at his will and wishes,” Shelton told ABC News.
“She came to this country as a WWII refugee and she deserved so much better than that.”
The QLSC action also accused Smith of transferring thousands of dollars from clients’ trust accounts to the general account without proper authorization.
QCAT also discovered that she had dishonestly taken more than $ 35,000 from an elderly client who died in 2018.
In another case, Smith billed himself over $ 42,000 in the months following a client’s death in 2017.
She also paid an additional $ 35,000 for the âbusiness managementâ of the estate of her client’s late wife, of whom she had been appointed executor.
QCAT said the mitigation in Smith’s case included her cooperation with authorities and that she returned her practice certificate in 2018 and forwarded the cases to new lawyers.
“Despite these mitigating characteristics, it is obvious that in the event of serious dishonesty in the exercise of his professional obligations, the practitioner must be struck off.”
QCAT ordered Smith to pay the costs of the QLSC.