A MAN who posed as a top lawyer pocketed more than £575,000 a client had paid him for legal services that were never provided, a court has heard.
Giovanni di Stefano, known as the Devil’s Advocate for taking on “unwinnable” cases, is accused of tricking people into thinking he was a legal professional, when in fact he was “not a qualified lawyer at all”.
Di Stefano, 57, originally from central Italy, is on trial at Southwark Crown Court in London charged with 25 offences, including deception, fraud and money laundering.
Prosecutor David Aaronberg, QC, told the jury that one of his victims – “another fraudster” Subhash Thakrar – approached di Stefano for help to scrap a bankruptcy order against him.
Di Stefano, a former director of Dundee FC, told Thakrar – an accountant who had been told throughout his bankruptcy proceedings that his evidence was “literally unbelievable” by the judge – that he could annul the ruling.
The Italian told Thakrar to transfer about £48,000 in advance of any legal work, and Thakrar’s wife Kiran set about raising the funds by selling some land she owned in Kent.
The money was transferred, but Mr Aaronberg told the jury of eight women and four men that within days, di Stefano had frittered away the cash. “It is evident that di Stefano quickly spent the money,” he said.
Di Stefano then convinced the Thakrars to pay a further £53,000 for his services, Mr Aaronberg said.
“The Thakrars were becoming a good source of income for Mr di Stefano,” he said.
“But I can tell you that within five days, it was gone.”
Di Stefano had used the money to clear some debts, the court was told.
However, the £100,000 he had already taken from the couple was not enough for di Stefano, Mr Aaronberg said.
“In December 2007, Mr di Stefano advised the Thakrars that it would be essential that Subhash’s bankruptcy be annulled.
He indicated that further funds would be required for this purpose.
“He told the Thakrars that, if they could raise £476,750, he would himself contribute £1 million, or more if necessary, and take repayment once the bankruptcy was annulled.”
Mr Aaronberg said di Stefano continued to give the Thakrars the impression that he was rich and “well connected” by asking them to attend meetings in Rome and Portugal.
He told them he was holding the money “in trust”, that he would only use it for the purpose of scraping the bankruptcy, and that the “matters were well in hand”.
The trial continues.