A veteran solicitor, who helped himself to over £800,000 in clients' cash over three years at his failing firm to fund an "extravagant" lifestyle has been locked-up for two years and ordered to repay £156,000.
David May, 69, destroyed a forty-six year unblemished reputation in the profession after dipping regularly into a £280,000 will he was handling and writing-up 56 bogus bills for non-existent work - costing unsuspecting clients over £70,000
May, of Longridge Avenue, Saltdean, East Sussex - formerly of Badgers Holt, Homefield Road, Chorleywood, Rickmansworth - pleaded guilty that between July 13, 2006 and May 9, last year, within the jurisdiction of the Central Criminal Court, he stole £861,645.28 from David May & Co’s client account.
"He must have known it would be uncovered and must have spent much time in secret terror," announced Southwark Crown Court Recorder Andrew Campbell-Tiech QC.
"The public's perception of lawyers, which for some may be low, can only be damaged. It is a gross breach of trust."
Married May, who has grown up children, told police his lifestyle was "good to extravagant" and must repay £156,061 within six months or spend an extra two years in prison.
The City of London Police’s Economic Crime Directorate was called in by the Law Society's Solicitors Regulatory Authority after the lawyer confessed to the thefts at David May & Co, Edgware Road, Kingsbury, North-West London.
Prosecutor Mr. Brett Weaver told the court first-time offender May was a sole practitioner specializing in conveyancing, wills and probate.
He confessed to a Law Society investigator he duped his accountant into believing the huge transfers were lawful and after taking money from one estate used another £360,000 will to plug the gaps.
A total of 109 thefts of client money was identified during the period and between 2006 and 2008 May stole at least £10,000 per month.
"He said all the money went on personal living expenses and the running of the practice," explained Mr. Weaver. "The defendant said the firm suffered in the recession of 1988 and things got worse from 2005.
"His professional indemnity insurance costs increased and the firm was not earning enough to cover the expenses of the business and his personal costs.
"He says he intended to repay the money, but things went spiraling out of control. He used the accounts as his own personal bank account."
All his clients are covered by the Law Society's compensation scheme.
"He will carry the shame of what he has done to his grave," said May's lawyer Mr. Stuart Nolan. "It's a very sad day for Mr. May and his family."
Recorder Campbell-Tiech told May: "You must have lived this moment in your mind many times. I regret that you are here."