A disgraced Sydney solicitor has been jailed for 10 years after misappropriating more than $6 million that deceased clients had left for charities.
Mark Leo O’Brien, 64, formerly of the Edgecliff firm Harrington, Maguire and O’Brien, was sentenced to a maximum of 10 years, with a non-parole period of six years, for 11 fraud offences at the Downing Centre District Court.
Mr O’Brien was blank-faced when he heard his sentence and kissed his wife before being led away.
The money belonged to the estates of two deceased clients and included funds that were intended to be donated to a charity for spinal injury victims, St Vincent de Paul Society and eye doctors.
Mr O’Brien and his wife used the stolen money to pay off two mortgages on their house and purchase a $3.4 million four-bedroom Bondi home.
They also leant $400,000 to each of their three children, set up a self-managed super fund and propped up his law firm, which Mr O’Brien claimed had been in “chronic financial distress”.
The court heard Mr O’Brien had donated a small amount of money to the charities to “cover his tracks” before forging a letter on their letterhead and passing it off as a receipt of donation.
Judge Robert Sutherland said the conduct was “an abuse of his trusted position as a solicitor”.
He said the same method was used on two different deceased clients in 2015 and 2017.
“In late 2017, with his self-confidence undoubtedly buoyed by the fact the earlier misappropriation had not been discovered, [he] turned to try his hand at fraudulent misappropriation again,” Judge Sutherland said.
“The second fraudulent acquisition revealed a degree of pre-planning and sophistication and refinement.”
Judge Sutherland said the couple had shown “deep remorse and genuine contrition”, but the motivation for misappropriating the funds “was one of greed rather than need”.
The court heard that Mr O’Brien had told psychologists and the court that his primary focus had been the financial circumstances of his law firm. But later told police that he had been acting “to make provision for our retirement.”
His wife, Therese O’Brien, 63 was sentenced to a three-year intensive corrections order on separate charges, for her inaction and knowledge of her husband’s wrongdoing.
Mr O’Brien gave his wife a kiss before being led away by corrective services officers.
Ms O’Brien was emotional as she left the dock and was comforted by supporters.
“I’m fine, I’m good,” she told them.
Outside court, Ms O’Brien’s lawyer said she was “shaken”.