B.C. lawyer who 'misappropriated' $650,000 hangs onto licence | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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B.C. lawyer who 'misappropriated' $650,000 hangs onto licence

Image Credit: FACEBOOK: Hong Guo

A B.C. lawyer whose sloppy paperwork allowed her bookkeeper to steal $7.5 million has managed to keep her licence to practice law.

The Law Society of B.C. had wanted Richmond real estate lawyer Hong Guo to be disbarred and appealed an earlier decision where she was suspended for 12 months.

However, in a March 1 Law Society of B.C. decision, the Law Society of B.C. Tribunal Review Division ruled that the 12-month suspension was appropriate although added that she be under "continued close supervision" once the year suspension is up.

"A one-year suspension is a very significant penalty that deters future conduct, reflects the seriousness of the wrongdoing and goes some way to secure public confidence in the legal profession," the decision reads.  "But we find the Respondent’s cumulative misconduct, which involves gross negligence in trust accounting and practice management, misappropriations, breaches of the Undertaking... and a substantial conduct record, requires more than a one-year suspension to ensure specific and general deterrence from future acts of misconduct and to address concerns about public confidence in the legal profession and the Law Society’s disciplinary process."

Guo's story dates back to 2016 when she returned from holiday to find $7.5 million missing from her trust account.

The Law Society later found she'd given more than 100 pre-signed blank trust cheques to her bookkeeper.

The bookkeeper and another colleague attempted to steal over $7.5 million, although the bank managed to intervene on the final cheque so the pair only got away with $6.6 million and fled to China.

READ MORE: B.C. octogenarian lawyer disbarred for facilitating 'suspicious' real estate deals

Guo told the Law Society they'd since been arrested and jailed in China, although provided no evidence to support this.

"China and Canada have different legal systems and that no evidence was presented to the (Law Society) to explain how the Chinese criminal system would have prosecuted individuals in China for alleged theft or fraud committed in Canada," an earlier Law Society decision says.

The decision says to make up for the stolen money, Guo put $2.6 million of her own funds in, while insurance paid another $4 million.

When investigating after the theft the Law Society found Guo, who once made an unsuccessful attempt to become mayor of Richmond, had made numerous breaches of trust accounting rules.

The Law Society found that's Guo professional misconduct resulted in the theft of the $7.5 million of clients' money by her bookkeeper.

The Law Society also found she'd "misappropriated" roughly $650,000.

"The misconduct occurring after the (Guo) discovered the theft was as follows: she manipulated and borrowed trust funds from clients, without their knowledge or authorization, to replace funds missing from other clients’ trust accounts required to complete pending real estate transactions," the decision reads.

While the Law Society wanted Guo disbarred, its own hearing committee panel pointed to mitigating circumstances.

The panel said that Guo had coughed up $2.6 million to help cover the theft and her manipulating trust account was done in an effort to minimize the impact of the massive theft.

READ MORE: B.C. lawyer that accepted $45,000 in $20 bills gets suspended

The panel also said the clients that lost money were eventually paid back.

Ultimately, the panal agrees that Guo should be suspended for one year and pay $47,000 costs. The decision says she can pay $1,000 per month until the debt is cleared.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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