Former lawyer jailed for embezzling £130K returns to run will-writing business as Law Society continues to protect still-working solicitors who rip off wills

01 Dec

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society refused to confirm whether victims of Valerie MacAdam had been repaid. A SOLICITOR who was jailed for three years in 2008 at Edinburgh Sheriff Court after being found guilty of embezzling £130,000 of client funds has returned to Scotland’s legal services marketplace with a will writing business, according to an investigation carried out by the Sunday Mail newspaper.

Valerie Macadam, now Valerie Penny has been identified as running the “wills at home” website, which states : “A new service is available! After a successful career as a lawyer, Valerie Penny lectured in law for several years. She then moved to the traditional Craft Town of West Kilbride six months ago having married local man, David Penny. She has now established a new business that will be of use to the whole community.”

The website goes onto state : “The firm also offers preparation of documents in the comfort of clients own homes or another convenient place of their choosing. This is much more relaxed and personal, but no less professional than the service conventionally provided in an office environment. Clients are ensured not only confidentiality, but also safe keeping of deeds as documents are retained in a secure document safe.”

There is no mention on the wills at home website of Ms Penny’s colourful history as a lawyer, nor are clients alerted to her conviction & three year jail sentence, which the Journalonline reported “was reduced from four years for an early guilty plea. Macadam took money from the bank accounts of clients and life savings of others as she handled their wills, stealing from five clients in total over a period of six years. Macadam had been banned from practising as a solicitor in 2004 following a Law Society of Scotland investigation.

Philip YellandPhilip Yelland, the Law Society of Scotland’s Director of Regulation for over 20 years. Philip Yelland, the Law Society of Scotland’s director of standards, said: “The Law Society of Scotland acted to protect the firm’s clients and Ms Macadam has not been able to practise as a solicitor in Scotland since 2004. Solicitors are trusted to handle millions of pounds of client funds each year. Honesty and integrity are absolutely paramount within the solicitors’ profession. Those who are suspected of stealing from clients will be investigated and, if they are found to be acting dishonestly or fraudulently, strong action will be taken against them, both by the Society and the courts.”

What a lot of rubbish Mr Yelland. You may as well have sent all her clients off to Andrew Penman at Stormonth Darling in Kelso to be fleeced again.

I covered Valerie Macadam’s conviction and side issues relating to solicitors ripping off clients for double fees in an article during late 2008, here : Lawyers stealing from clients to earn ‘double fees’ while Law Society looks the other way in vast network of legal aid fraud & embezzlement

The report from the Sunday Mail follows, although I feel I should emphasise some points to my own readers. The lawyer quoted in the Sunday Mail’s story, Bruce de Wert, who is an “Honorary Sheriff” and runs a will writing business (Scottwills) along with a divorce business (MyScottishDivorce) states : “When you deal with a solicitor, you will normally find they also offer a will storage service – usually for free. But the difference is solicitors are heavily regulated and, in the event they were to retire or go out of business, the Law Society ensures these wills are properly passed on to another solicitor.”

Many solicitors actually charge for holding wills & documents. I know this to be the case as I’ve had fee notes for this service. I have also had numerous readers come to me with examples of similar fee notes, with some solicitors occasionally refusing to hand over documents they are holding for clients until very dubious & usually very high charges and fee demands are paid.

The part about solicitors being heavily regulated is of course irrelevant because as we all know, solicitors are ineffectually regulated by the Law Society of Scotland & Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, and that is why I have seen & reported on hundreds of cases of will fraud by solicitors over many years. If solicitors were so well regulated, I wouldn’t be able to write about such cases, and of course, if solicitors were so well regulated, there wouldn’t be so many Andrew Penmans out there doing much the same as those featuring in headline after headline after headline.

Personally of course, I don’t believe anyone should make tens of thousands of pounds out of a family member passing on their final wishes to their family or whoever they choose to leave their wealth.

After being dragged through the Law Society’s sinister complaints practices, and having a solicitor and an accountant basically put a gun to my family’s head, hound us for years, harass us, follow us, threaten us, make our lives a misery while they both got away with it, I am of course bound to say this, but I say it because I don’t want anyone else to go through it, so be careful who you trust your will to, and indeed for that, all your legal interests and remember, there are just as many criminals still inside the Scottish legal profession who will ruin your will & your legal interests, as those outside who might not be telling their clients all they need to hear.

For those readers concerned about their wills and other documents being held by their solicitors, I have written articles which readers might be interested in HERE

The regulation of will writers has entered into law as part of the Scottish Government’s Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 (pdf) Chapter Two specifically referring to regulation, and it may come as no surprise to all, the Law Society of Scotland is in the frame to regulate non-lawyer will writers, as I featured earlier, here : Scottish Government plan to regulate non-lawyer ‘will writers’ may see Law Society regulate all complaints against mishandled wills, legal business

I recently covered the subject of will writers, lawyer & non-lawyer, and their lack of effective regulation, here : R.I.P. OFF : Lack of independent regulation reveals solicitors, accountants & will writers should not be trusted on wills, final wishes & bequests

Now over to the Sunday Mail :

Where there's a will there's a crook - Sunday Mail November 28 2010Shamed lawyer who robbed clients out of jail and back in business

Nov 28 2010 Exclusive by Russell Findlay and Lauren Crooks, Sunday Mail

A CROOKED lawyer jailed for stealing money from dead clients is back in business, we can reveal.

Valerie Penny, 54, runs a slick website to lure customers into handing over £80 for wills. She is selling the same legal services she used to steal £130,000 from clients and their estates – a catalogue of dishonesty that landed her in prison.

The struck-off solicitor, who was called Macadam before her marriage, boasts of her “successful career”. But she makes no mention of her jail time for robbing clients’ cash or her shocking record of professional misconduct.

Last week Sunday Mail investigators caught her back in action touting wills and other legal services.

US-born Penny, who has practised law in Scotland and New York, was jailed for three years in December 2008 for stealing £130,000 from clients, some of whom were dead. She seized control of their finances through “power of attorney”, then syphoned their life savings over a six-year period. She specialised in conveyancing and wills at her law firm in Edinburgh’s posh Charlotte Square before her crime spree was uncovered.

After being freed from Cornton Vale prison in June, Penny launched Wills at Home from her house in West Kilbride, Ayrshire. She and second husband David, 50, a nuclear power station security guard, sell wills and power of attorney documents through online ads.

Her website states: “After a successful career as a lawyer, Valerie Penny lectured in law for several years. “North Ayrshire is the first area in Scotland to have the benefit of Wills at Home but Valerie plans to extend the service throughout the country quickly.”

Last week Penny and her husband met our reporters – posing as a couple – at a Kilmarnock hotel and offered two wills for £120. After making and printing the first will, she said: “Now do you have somewhere fireproof to keep the wills? No, well, we have a safe. We can keep them there if you’re happy for us to do that. It’s what normally happens.”

She handed a copy of one will to our team but forgot to print the second. She promised: “I’ll send it to you. Are you wanting to pay cash? If we’re holding the deeds, there’s a small extra charge of £15 per deed. But if you’re paying cash, we can make it £140 instead of £150.”

The Scottish Government are set to pass a new law to tackle the unregulated will industry.

Lawyer Bruce de Wert, a wills expert based in Wick, was stunned at our revelations about Penny. He said: “I am distressed to hear a convicted embezzler is offering a will-making and storage service.

“I can’t imagine anyone who knew her background would accept her service. Apart from the obvious concerns of dealing with a criminal, I do worry that the wills she has produced may never be found.

“When you deal with a solicitor, you will normally find they also offer a will storage service – usually for free. But the difference is solicitors are heavily regulated and, in the event they were to retire or go out of business, the Law Society ensures these wills are properly passed on to another solicitor.”

Penny first appeared in front of the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal in 2003, which found her guilty of a catalogue of misconduct but failed to strike her off. Two years later she was finally kicked out of the profession for another long litany of misconduct.

The SSDT found Penny “deliberately and fraudulently” forged a signature on a document relating to a dead client’s will and acted in a “dishonest fashion by misleading” another client. They also said she embezzled client funds in a “calculated and devious scheme”.

Penny’s entry on the LinkedIn website for professionals had claimed she worked for global financial giant Bank of New York Mellon between November 2008 and May this year. But she was behind bars during that time. The dates were later changed to when she did work for the bank – from May to December 2008, when she was fired. A bank spokesman said: “As soon as we discovered her conviction, we terminated her employment.”

At Edinburgh Sheriff Court, Penny accused her first husband, lawyer David Macadam, 54, of driving her to embezzlement by his “bullying”. He was also rapped for misconduct by the SSDT in 2004. They ordered that he could only work as a lawyer under supervision for a five-year period.

When confronted last week, Penny said: “This will destroy me. The dates on LinkedIn are a mistake.” She then told her husband to snatch the will from our reporter’s hands.


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