Council lawyer lied about husband’s company to get invoices paid

SDT: Not particularly sophisticated fraud

An in-house solicitor at Corby Borough Council who lied about giving work to her husband’s company in a bid to have two invoices paid has been struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said that although Omolarami Akindiji’s misconduct was “not particularly sophisticated”, her lies about the situation were “prolonged”.

The SDT said Ms Akindiji’s line manager reported her to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in January 2019 after she attempted to arrange payments to her husband’s company for “services that the council had not received”.

Ms Akindiji, qualified in 2013, was a legal services manager at the council at the time of her misconduct.

She submitted two invoices, each for £1,550 plus VAT, to the council in November 2018 for services supposedly provided by Alfa Topco, a company of which her husband was the sole director.

The solicitor had previously added Alfa Topco to the council’s approved list of creditors without disclosing her husband’s relationship to it.

As part of her induction on joining the council, Ms Akindiji confirmed that she had read the code of conduct, which made it clear that relationships between staff and potential contractors must be declared.

The invoices described the services provided as “legal consultancy”. As a result of queries raised internally, the description was amended on three occasions, first to “agency fees”, then back to “legal consultancy” and finally to “providing legal advice/drafting in relation to property matters”.

The SDT said there was no evidence that Alfa Topco had provided any of these services.

“In reality, Alfa Topco appeared to be involved in recruitment, including attempting to encourage candidates to join the council through Alfa Topco even though they were already signed up with other agencies.”

The evidence showed that Ms Akindiji had sent her husband several CVs of potential recruits – including from other agencies – and asked him to follow them up.

The SDT said that, in the course of the council and SRA investigations, Ms Akindiji provided “various accounts” as to what service the invoices related to.

Her first account, that the invoices related to work undertaken by a candidate placed by Alfa Topco, was “later admitted by her to be a lie”.

She later said an invoice related to another candidate, who in fact was never placed with the council, and that one or both invoices related to Alfa Topco searching for candidates and undertaking background checks on them.

The invoices were not paid as the council managed to stop them.

In an interview soon after with her line manager and the head of internal affairs and counter-fraud at Cambridgeshire County Council, the solicitor said the person she liaised with at Alfa Topco was ‘James Akin’ and not her husband; she falsely claimed the company had three directors.

It was only later, when dealing with the SRA, that she admitted James Akin was her husband.

At the interview, Ms Akindiji also claimed Alfa Topco had placed a recruit with the council; that person later provided a statement saying she had never heard of Alfa Topco.

Ms Akindiji said another potential recruit was not taken on because she was not satisfied by his references. In fact, it was because he refused to be recruited through Alfa Topco.

The solicitor was suspended by the council at the end of the interview and resigned the following day.

The SDT found that she had acted dishonestly in submitting the invoices and providing information at the interview which was untrue.

Her lies about the situation were “prolonged” and, although her misconduct was “not particularly sophisticated”, it was planned. Its motivation was “clearly financial gain” for Alfa Topco.

Despite being an experienced solicitor, Ms Akindiji had, within a short period of time after joining the council, “gone against all that she would have been taught by way of training”.

Her misconduct was aggravated by “multiple contradictory explanations”, all of which the tribunal rejected, such as blaming her line manager, lack of knowledge and poor health. Ms Akindiji “demonstrated no insight” and her admissions were contradictory.

She was struck off and ordered to pay £22,000 in costs.

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