A lawyer jailed for seven years for fraud after stealing money from an estate and failing to provide conveyancing services he was paid for has failed in a bid to reduce the sentence.
The Court of Appeal found no merit in the appeal of Pablo Jesus Belsey, who had run a company called Spanish Property Lawyers in London and used the money he stole on “flights, massage parlours and other matters”.
Though he appears to have held himself out as a solicitor – he is listed as such on Companies House, for example – the Solicitors Regulation Authority told Legal Futures that it had no record of Mr Belsey.
Aged 59 at the time, he was convicted in March of two offences of fraud by abuse of position under the Fraud Act 2006.
District Judge Dodd at Wood Green Crown Court sentenced him to seven years for the first count, and three years for the second, to run concurrently.
The Court of Appeal heard that Spanish Property Lawyers Limited offered legal advice and conveyancing services for customers wanting to purchase property in Spain.
Mr Belsey was co-executor of the estate of a widow, Marie Louise Wright, with her granddaughter, Marie Hood. They realised £569,000 and he paid it into his personal bank account, rather than the executors’ joint account.
Though he made six individual payments of £20,000 to family members under the terms of the will, other beneficiaries received nothing.
Giving the appeal court’s ruling, Mr Justice Jacobs recounted: “The majority of it had been spent by the applicant on flights, massage parlours and other matters, although a restraining order which was obtained by the family froze some £220,000.”
District Judge Dodd sentenced Mr Belsey on the basis that the total loss was at least £400,000.
The second offence involved Nadeem Amin and his wife, who transferred just over £20,000 to Spanish Property Lawyers for help with buying a property in Spain. No conveyancing services were provided and Mr Belsey instead spent the money.
Jacobs J said, that following his arrest, Mr Belsey created a false invoice for £208,000 for work “supposedly undertaken” administering Ms Wright’s estate”. In the case of Mr Amin and his mother, he created a false suspicious activity report after his police interview.
Though he had no previous convictions in the UK, Mr Belsey was convicted of unlawful appropriation in Spain in 1999 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, and in 2016 convicted of a similar offence dating back to 2004, for which he was sentenced to 16 months’ imprisonment, suspended for three years.
Jacobs J said that after his arrest Mr Belsey “went to ground and disappeared, and it was only because of the restraining order that any money was recovered at all.”
He had been represented by counsel at the trial, however, who drafted the grounds for appeal against sentence.
Jacobs J said: “The judge in the Crown Court in this case sentenced the applicant without a report and we do not consider that one was or is now necessary.”
Personal statements from members of Mrs Wright family, including Mrs Hood herself, “demonstrated the severe impact” that the crimes have had.
“The family members have suffered physically, mentally and emotionally, particularly the children of Mrs Hood who have seen how much distress the events have caused her.
“The judge also read statements from Mr Amin describing the resulting breakdown of his relationship with his mother, following the disastrous attempt to purchase the Spanish property.”
There was “no error” in DJ Dodd proceeding on the basis of a loss of £400,000. In any case, “in the light of the victim impact statements”, the judge was fully entitled to move the offence up a category, which meant a higher sentencing starting point.
“In our view it is not arguable that an overall sentence of seven years is manifestly excessive,” Jacobs J said.
There was a short delay in submitting the renewed application for appeal after it was rejected on the papers.
Jacobs J said Mr Belsey had argued, “without citing any authority”, that no criminal complaint should have been made without a complaint being first made to the Law Society. “We are unaware of any such principle.”
He also argued that the loss on count 1 should have been regarded as less, because he carried out 813 hours of work which should be charged at £250 per hour.
“There is no substance in that point either. If work had indeed been carried out, then the appropriate course was for properly itemised bills to be drawn up and the agreement of the co-executor sought for payment of the amounts claimed. None of that happened.
“That proper course cannot be circumvented by an executor simply putting the entirety of the estate into a personal bank account without the knowledge of his co-executor and then treating the money as his own, which is what happened in the present case.”
The renewed application was refused, along with the application for an extension of time to make it, “because the proposed appeal has no merit”.
Lord Justice William Davis and Mr Justice Griffiths contributed to the judgment.