Lawyer admits to taking $2.8m in Ponzi-like scheme

by NZ Lawyer06 Oct 2014
A 79-year old lawyer from Dunedin has admitted to being behind a scheme where he took $2.8 million from mainly elderly clients over a period of 21 years.

John Milne has admitted the long-term fraud on the morning his Christchurch District Court trial was set to begin, the New Zealand Herald reports.

The man pleaded guilty to 34 charges that were laid by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

The charges relate to Milne eliciting money from clients and associates on the premise that he would invest the money and pay them a return on the invested funds.

But according to the SFO, none of the money was invested, and some of the early investors had actually been repaid with money received from subsequent clients.

Milne operated the system, which Christchurch Court News reports as appearing to have “the hallmarks of a Ponzi scheme”, from 1991 to 2012.

The man’s targets were his client base in Dunedin that was derived from his previous legal work in a sole practice there.

The SFO initially received a complaint in June 2012 from the New Zealand Law Society Otago Standards Committee, which had become concerned about Milne’s activities around client funds.

And then last April, a Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal struck him off the role of barristers and solicitors.

Last August, the SFO announced that criminal charges were set to be laid against Milne, and acting chief executive Simon McArley said one of the most disturbing aspects of the case was that the victims were elderly and vulnerable, often widows living alone.

"We remain deeply concerned for these victims, who have lost their investments at a time in their lives when they should be living comfortably,” he said.

Today the court was told that there have been losses of about $2 million, but as he entered his pleas, Milne said some of that money had been paid back.

The offending involved 29 victims. The Crown is seeking a jail starting point of eight years.