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Lawyer took $1M from dad’s estate

|Written By Kendyl Sebesta

The Law Society of Upper Canada has made a finding of professional misconduct against a well-known Ottawa lawyer after a hearing panel found he misappropriated more than $1 million from his deceased father’s estate and misapplied more than $40,000 from the trust accounts of several Lang Michener LLP clients.

According to the hearing panel, Leslie Vandor, who became an independent contractor with Lang Michener in March 2006, made at least four transfers out of and between the firm’s trust and mixed trust accounts from February to April 2008.

Until April 2008, the trust accounts of other Lang Michener clients padded the shortfalls. But after that time, trust monies from two separate Lang Michener clients made their way into Vandor’s personal accounts and his mother’s personal account. In the meantime, Vandor had been taking money from his father’s estate as well as a family business.

Lang Michener’s managing partner at the time, Michael Rankin, had been concerned about Vandor’s inability to produce on a deal he had made with the firm in 2006 to act as an independent contractor.

He began to notice discrepancies and missing funds in clients’ trust and mixed trust accounts in January 2009 after Vandor’s departure from the firm.

Rankin approached Vandor about the missing trust monies in January 2009. But when Vandor failed to provide adequate reasons as to why the funds were missing, Rankin made a complaint about him to the law society.

The firm repaid almost $48,000 from its own funds to each client and has since merged with McMillan LLP.

The hearing panel made a finding of professional misconduct against Vandor on May 1. It has reserved its decision on penalty pending oral or written submissions.

Vandor “consistently pointed the finger at others rather than taking responsibility for his own actions or inaction,” hearing panel chairwoman Constance Backhouse wrote in the decision with fellow members Adriana Doyle and Barbara Laskin concurring.

The panel noted Vandor had been a successful solo practitioner in Ottawa when he entered into a two-year fee-sharing agreement with Lang Michener in 2006.

At the time, Vandor had authored several legal books, had appeared on radio and TV shows to talk about legal issues in the area, and had a weekly column in the Ottawa Citizen. He had also previously served as senior adviser to the attorney general of Canada.

To cover the shortfall in Lang Michener’s trust accounts in one instance, Vandor moved trust money held in one matter to the mixed trust account of the same client in a different one. In other cases, he didn’t attempt to cover the shortfall at all, the hearing panel’s decision noted.

When asked about the discrepancies, Vandor said “he needed to look into things, and if there had been some mistake, he would repay the money.” According to the panel’s decision, he never did.

Because of Vandor’s actions, Chester Burtt, a longtime friend and client of Vandor’s, lost more than $30,000.

Vandor “was not only a friend but he was my lawyer,” Burtt told the hearing panel. “I trusted him implicitly. I didn’t ask to see a lot of paperwork because of that trust.”

According to the hearing panel, Vandor transferred money between two unrelated matters Burtt had with the firm and used the trust funds from one to cover the legal fees in the other.

He also withdrew trust money from one of the accounts to pay his hydro and credit card bills and advised Burtt to pay him directly for his services in one of the matters despite his agreement with the firm.

At the same time, Vandor also transferred more than $12,000 from his client Lena Badali’s trust account to his mother’s personal account to cover an increasing hole in his deceased father’s dwindling estate.

“The law society argued that the timing of this transaction was also not accidental,” wrote Backhouse. “It occurred when Leslie Vandor’s mother and sister had discovered that the family estate was depleted and his mother could not pay her ongoing expenses without selling her condo.”

According to the hearing panel’s decision, Vandor transferred more than $1 million from his father’s estate and Vandor Investments Ltd. to himself or other companies he controlled from 1998 to 2007.

Vandor Investments was a privately owned company Vandor’s father had created. Vandor was a signing officer and director. The company was 84.5-per-cent owned by Vandor’s father’s estate and the shares of the business were the estate’s primary assets.

According to the hearing panel’s decision, Vandor transferred the money from Vandor Investments and his father’s estate to his personal accounts to pay his taxes, for the purchase of a farm, and to cover his own unrelated legal fees.

He also used it to pay his wife and children as well as his credit card balances. He took money for nearly a decade before he withdrew from all administration of the estate in 2008.

During that time, the value of Vandor Investments and his father’s estate decreased to about $5,000 in December 2007 from a combined total of nearly $2 million in May 1998.

According to the hearing panel’s decision, when his mother and siblings began to ask about the dwindling funds, Vandor cited “a drop in the market” and a “tax bite.”

“We all trusted [Leslie] that he was handling everything all right,” Vandor’s 91-year-old mother Agnes told the hearing panel. “Who can you trust if you can’t trust your own son?”

  • Roy Dickinson
    Any lawyer that takes any money from trust improperly should be gone.

    Letting lawyers get away with this behaviour once only sends a bad message, not only to the thief, but to other lawyers and the public.
  • Keith
    This is almost unbelievable. A senior counsel stealing so much for so long from so many people including his own mother. I mean, how low can you go? The LSUC needs to deliver the harshest punishment in its history for this one.
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