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A crooked solicitor who stole more than £400,000 from a dead woman's estate has been jailed for three and a half years.

Michael Karus from Edinburgh had previously pleaded guilty to embezzling the cash from the estate of Edith Hampton between March 5 and May 7, 2003.

At Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Monday, the sheriff told Karus: "This was a grave breach of trust. You were formerly a solicitor, having been suspended by the Law Society in 2002.

"In my view the public are entitled to expect people like you, acting in a position of trust, to display the utmost integrity. You have clearly failed to do so in this case".

The court heard that former schoolteacher Miss Hampton had drawn up two wills. The first, created with Karus & Co in 1992, called for her estate to be shared between her brother and charity Cancer Research UK. Her brother died five years later, leaving the charity as the sole beneficiary and Karus as the only executor.

However, Miss Hampton then drew up a second will, leaving her estate to her closest living relative, her cousin's daughter Mrs June Pirie.

Miss Hampton died, aged 89, in March 2003. Karus then registered the first will, claiming it had been the only one made, before transferring all the funds to his own bank account.

Four months later, all £413,052.81 had gone.

Karus put £115,000 into Edinburgh Metropolitan Properties, of which he was a director. £82,000 went to the Karus & Co pension fund while £60,000 went to a judicial factor to clear the law firm's debts. Between £3000 and £5000 was used to pay off his credit card debts.

Karus told HM Customs and Excise and Mrs Pirie, when he met her at Miss Hampton's funeral, that all the proceeds of the estate had gone to Cancer Research.

However, the charity made numerous attempts to communicate with Karus.

In 2004, he told them a second will had come to light and in 2005 he told the charity they were not mentioned in the second will. He did not tell Mrs Pirie about her inheritance.

The charity began inquiries and discovered that the first will had been confirmed in 1992, but they had received nothing and contacted the police.

Karus eventually registered the second will in April 2008, three weeks after appearing in the Sheriff Court charged with embezzlement.

Defence counsel, Ian Duguid QC, said Karus had never met Miss Hampton.

His mother, who was not a solicitor, but who had been granted power of attorney to Miss Hampton, told him some time after Miss Hampton's death she thought there was a subsequent will, but he never saw the document for some considerable time after that.

Mr Duguid said Karus had moved the funds to stop them being "swallowed up" by the judicial factor.

The QC added that £500,000 had been lodged with the court, along with £80,000 in interest, so that Mrs Pirie would suffer no personal loss out of the affair. Mr Duguid added that Karus had been facing some personal difficulties which had "clouded his judgement".

Sentencing Karus, Sheriff McIntyre said his starting point was five years, but he would reduce that by six months as the guilty plea had saved a lengthy trial. An additional 12 months was deducted because the funds had been made available to the court.

Karus was sentenced to three and a half years behind bars.

Speaking after Karus was sentenced, Scott Pattison, Crown Office Director of Operations, said: "Michael Karus abused his position as a lawyer and the trust placed in him by Edith Hampton in order to steal her life savings, which amounted to over £400,000.

"Ms Hampton entrusted him to ensure that her property was passed on according to her wishes; but he took advantage and took this money for himself."

He added: "This case shows that those like Michael Karus who use their professional status to perpetrate crime will be made to face justice."

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Added: Nov-15-2009 Occurred On: Nov-15-2009
By: opentop
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