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Staff ruined me: lawyer

|Written By Michael McKiernan

A Brampton, Ont., lawyer is suing a former real estate employee in a case alleging she ruined his finances and his professional reputation by tricking him into a mortgage fraud scheme.

The Rozz Entertainment Complex in Brampton is at the heart of Charles Amissah-Ocran’s lawsuit against his former employee.

The case comes after Charles Amissah-Ocran received a warning from the Law Society of Upper Canada almost a year ago that the employee was a known fraudster.

Amissah-Ocran wants $5 million in damages from Claire Graham, whom he employed as a conveyancer, and several of her associates for “loss of income on account of fraud, conspiracy, and breach of fiduciary duty,” according to a statement of claim filed with the Ontario Superior Court in Brampton on Nov. 5.

The law society suspended Amissah-Ocran on an interim basis on Dec. 2 after a string of complaints about suspect deals in recent months put the regulator’s spotlight on his practice once again.

Further proceedings will take place in the next two weeks to determine whether he should receive an interlocutory suspension until the parties can schedule a full hearing on his alleged misconduct.

An investigator with the law society ordered him to stop using Graham for real estate services as far back as January, but Amissah-Ocran kept her on in a litigation support role and put her sister and nephew in charge of the real estate side of his practice.

He claims he complied with the law society request by entering into an understanding with Graham that she would stay away from his real estate practice but alleges she reneged on the deal.

“With hindsight, I look so foolish,” Amissah-Ocran tells Law Times. “My failure to cut all ties with Claire was the biggest mistake of my life.”

A factum filed by law society counsel Tanus Rutherford on Nov. 26 reveals the LSUC is investigating seven complaints concerning numerous properties. It has reviewed 14 suspicious transactions so far and alleges Amissah-Ocran “misapplied $5 million or allowed Graham to do so.”

“It appears that, instead of paying out prior mortgages, the lawyer diverted funds to other uses,” Rutherford wrote.

Amissah-Ocran says his accountant is still working on reconciliations but he believes his trust account is short at least $900,000, a figure he fears may rise even further.

In an affidavit to support his own claim, Amissah-Ocran accuses Graham of orchestrating “an elaborate scheme” in order to divert money to the company of a friend, Rosalyn Blake, the owner of the Rozz Entertainment Complex restaurant and conference centre in Brampton.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. “I believe that Ms. Blake and Ms. Graham arranged to deplete my trust account of mortgage funds to bankroll Ms. Blake’s business,” Amissah-Ocran wrote in his affidavit.

The lawsuit also names Blake as a defendant, along with her husband. Neither she nor Graham could be reached for comment.

Things came to a head in September when CIBC demanded a final report on a $376,000 mortgage that was supposed to have closed in May.

According to Rutherford’s factum, the mortgage funds were disbursed to Blake even though the deal never closed. The money was allegedly returned to CIBC using funds from another mortgage acquired by Blake, according to the factum.

Amissah-Ocran learned of CIBC’s complaint to the law society on Sept. 27. In his affidavit, he says that was the first time he found out about the problem and alleges Graham had been “concealing communications from CIBC from me.”

According to Rutherford, the law society has struggled to keep up as complaints began flooding in since then.

Instead of going to police, Amissah-Ocran says he launched his own investigation and confronted Graham and Blake.

At one stage, he alleges in his claim that Blake asked him to “knowingly become part of the fraudulent scheme” by allowing the cycle of each fraudulent mortgage paying off the last to continue until she could find the money to make up the shortfall.

In an affidavit filed with the LSUC, Amissah-Ocran said he waited until Nov. 3 to complain to police because he feared Graham would stop talking to him about her scheme.

“If Claire is charged, she will be directed not to talk to me anymore,” he wrote. “I wanted to obtain as much information as I could from her before reporting the matter to the police.”

Amissah-Ocran says he hopes the lenders who paid out the fraudulent mortgages will join his lawsuit. He wants a receiver appointed to take over Blake’s business and recover the lost money.

“I may not be able to finance it all the way on my own. I’m hoping some of them will join in the litigation at some stage.

Obviously, they will be interested in getting their money back. I’m hoping that one of the side-effects is that they [Blake and Graham] will be crippled and other lawyers will know so they cannot be taken in by them.”

Amissah-Ocran began his business relationship with Graham in 2006 when he moved his office from Mississauga to a building in Brampton. Graham’s own legal services business, Grabasc and Associates, was based down the hall.

According to the law society factum, Amissah-Ocran handed over his Teraview diskette and password to Graham for electronic title registration in April 2008.

The LSUC became aware Graham was working with Amissah-Ocran earlier this year when it investigated a complaint unrelated to mortgage fraud.

According to its factum, law society investigation counsel Eric Smith asked Amissah-Ocran to stop using her for real estate services and retrieve his Teraview diskette. Amissah-Ocran also received a copy of the LSUC decision that disbarred Winston Mattis the previous year.

A law society panel found Mattis had failed to supervise Graham, who ran his real estate practice with another law clerk.

Graham was involved in 15 fraudulent mortgage transactions in which the panel found payments were made to her out of the funds by altering the amounts owed in land transfer tax.

According to the law society factum, Graham told an investigator Amissah-Ocran paid her $200 per real estate deal and allegedly prepared trust cheques at her direction without reviewing the file.

But Amissah-Ocran alleges in his own affidavit that Graham faked documents and created false parcel registers in order to get him to sign off on trust cheques. “Her deception was extensive and deep,” he wrote.

The law society also accuses him of hampering its investigation by failing to produce client files, but Amissah-Ocran claims he’s unable to do so because Graham has disappeared with all of his real estate files.

At a hearing on Dec. 2 to deal with a motion to suspend Amissah-Ocran on an interlocutory basis, he pleaded to be able to continue his practice.

The lawyer, who is 61 and was called to the bar in 1998 after practising in Ghana and Europe, said suspension would be a “crushing” blow. “It is virtually impossible for me to find alternative employment,” he said, adding he’d need an income in order to prosecute his action against Graham and Blake.

But Rutherford had little sympathy. “He is the author of his own misfortune,” she told a law society panel. “He played cute with the warning he was given.”

The panel eventually granted Amissah-Ocran an adjournment to find counsel and discuss his case, but he can’t practise in the meantime. The motion for interlocutory suspension is due to return before the end of the year.

  • why hasn\'t this person been stopped?

    If this has happened to another lawyer by the hand of this person why hasn't she been stopped shouldn't she be in jail? lawyers should stick together and let these fraudsters know you can't get away with this it sounds like she will do it again and again she knows its a slap on the wrist!
  • Curious

    Hmmm... I wonder what would give Blake the impression that it would be okay to ask Mr. Ocran if he wanted to join the scam against his very own practice? That's odd...
  • practising lawyer of 33 years

    on re-reading this article, I realize I have misread it, and without any prompting by anyone, I now retract in full all of my previous comments to all concerned as they were based on my misapprehension of the facts - I operated under the misconception and my thinking was the staff and lawyer were related to one another or somehow non-arms length i.e sibs, these staff member(s) on my further reading of this article they are not related at all to the Brampton lawyer, therefore I apologize sincerely and wish him and the Law Society well in his/their pursuit of gaining restitution from any guilty party.
  • staff ruined me:lawyer

    practising lawyer for 33 years
    I'm reading thru the lines here - lets see if I'm wrong - like guessing the outcome of a greek tradgedy - upon what doubt should this man not be immediately disbarred regardless and on what basis should there not be immediate restitution mandated by him - let me guess he has no money - let me guess too the police are'nt interested if the Law Society can't manage their own -will we wait until he gets it from his sibs and the conveyancer - do we in the profession pay for these types who ruin the profession and in this new era of willy nilly admission to the practise - makes the old time scammers look like nice guys, those who have no idea of honesty - what no apology - sir you are a frausdster - plagarized from ....what does the practice of law require in this Province anymore - if the Banks can't rely on us to assist in ordinary person's financing ...who can they rely on - it'll be the end for all of us - how do these types ever get in the the bar - and yes anyone who gives out the ereg disk, we all sign an acknowledgement we are individually responsible, so who are the brother and sister -lawyers, pedestrians -is the civil suit merely a smoke screen for inability to acknowledge what he has actually done here to through off the responsibilty - why sue a fraudster - has he frozen their accounts -if they offed with the money perhaps out of the country - where has it gone - where will this lawyer go - will it soon become quite apparent like a fraudster lawyer disbarred a few weeks ago ....gone out of the country ....unknown whereabouts.
  • Ann
    Do you know Mr. Ocran? Do you know that he has off shore accounts? Do you kinow that he has a home elsewhere for him to take off to? You speak with such malice and bitterness. Do you have a beef with foreign trained lawyers? I read through your lines and I can see you for exactly who you are!
  • staff ruined me: lawyer

    John Campbell
    David Bilinsky's recent article in Bartalk about IT as a competency standard for lawyers says it all. This is a link to the article availalble online.
  • Who will pay?

    Lubomir Poliacik
    Are we (Ontario lawyers) all on hook to pay through Lawpro or through the Compensation fund for Mr. Ocran's little "mistake"?
  • Who will pay

    James P Brown
    Of course Ontario lawyers will pay. Either through a special levy (as has been done in the past) or increased E&O fees, but probably both.
  • Guest
    Why hasn't this woman been charged.
  • Ann
    I too question why she hasn't been charged. If the LSUC had enough information on her to warn the lawyer then why haven't they forwarded a file to the police for them to investigate her?
  • Why hasn\'t this woman been charged.

    angry conveyancer
    Probably due to insufficient evidence. Isn't that normally why criminal prosecutions fail to move forward.

    The lawyer in the article I do not believe for a minute. Whether or not the others are involved, he is the architect.
  • Staff Ruined Me Says Lawyer

    James P. Brown
    Mr. Amissah-Ocran should make some enquiry to see what is useful when one is serving time in the penitentiary.
  • Real estate lawyer complaint

    Dana Weber Harvey
    In BC failure to properly supervise staff is cause for disciplinary action. The buck stops at the lawyer's desk, since support staff are not subject to professional discipline. The lawyer is required to understand the transaction upon which he or she is providing services. This is not the fault of the electronic registration process.
  • Teranet System Shows a Flaw

    Don Desaulniers
    I retired as a real estate lawyer in 2009, mainly because I really disliked the Teranet electronic registration system. This case shows a serious flaw in that system, namely lawyers handing over control of their diskettes to non-lawyers. We all knew it was going to happen. Many, if not most, real estate lawyers do not even know how to turn their computers on, let alone check legal work on it.
    Every week we read in the OR's about another fraudulent mortgage scam being discovered.
  • Rachel
    I completely agree. I'm a law clerk at a law firm where my lawyer doesn't know anything about Teraview, and sometimes it's unnerving knowing that these deals, mortgage, purchase, or sales, fully rely on MY capability.

    I am not surprised that this would happen to be honest. I think if someone is willing to practice Real Estate Law they should take it upon themselves to actually know the law. I seriously don't get paid enough to do it all :P
  • Michelle Smith
    Are you talking about Book?[quote name="Rachel"]I completely agree. I'm a law clerk at a law firm where my lawyer doesn't know anything about Teraview, and sometimes it's unnerving knowing that these deals, mortgage, purchase, or sales, fully rely on MY capability.

    I am not surprised that this would happen to be honest. I think if someone is willing to practice Real Estate Law they should take it upon themselves to actually know the law. I seriously don't get paid enough to do it all :P[/quote]
  • interested person
    I find it amazing.....the rules are clear. Lawyers should follow them. I can't think of anyone that would give another person their bank PIN number, then why hand over your Teraview diskette?
  • Guest
    You are right when you imply many lawyers delegate to staff too much re security diskettes but you go overboard with "Many, if not most do not even know how to turn their computers on..." I suspect I am older than you. I love working with computers. All the lawyers in my office and most of the ones I know in other offices use their computers like the right hand they are.
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