An Auckland lawyer has been struck-off the roll of barristers and solicitors after laundering dirty money for the Comanchero motorcycle gang.
The offending has already resulted in Andrew Simpson, who ran a small law office in Mt Roskill, sentenced to two years and nine months’ imprisonment in February.
He used trust accounts to launder millions of dollars’ worth of luxury cars, cash and real estate for members of the gang. Simpson also advised the Comancheros to keep any cash deposits under $10,000 to avoid alerting the banks, which are obliged to report any transactions above the threshold as suspicious.
Now, the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal has struck off the 42-year-old “to protect the reputation of the profession and in order to maintain public confidence in the integrity of the profession”.
“He not only used his legal knowledge to facilitate the criminal offending but knew that what he was doing was wrong,” the tribunal’s penalty decision this month reads.
The tribunal noted Simpson’s previous good character and his remorse.
“Not surprisingly, news media coverage around the criminal conviction of a practitioner who had no prior known tendency to crime, has been extensive.
“The consequences of his criminal actions have affected his wife and children, among others. Many people provided references for him, puzzled by his criminal offending. Clearly, those aspects of his character that found expression in his criminal behaviour were covert.”
At Simpson’s sentencing for 13 money laundering charges over $2.4m, his lawyer Guyon Foley described the offending as “perplexing”.
Foley said his client had thought the money was from cash jobs linked to a contracting company associated with the gang’s vice-president. It was only when Simpson searched the internet did he realise his clients moved in criminal circles, Foley said.
Justice Gerard van Bohemen, however, rejected any notion of mere recklessness and said Simpson had repeatedly failed in fulfilling his duties to the court, as well as bringing the legal profession into disrepute.
“You used your specialist knowledge as a lawyer to advise on structuring the laundering scheme across the multiple trust accounts you set up. You also channelled money through your solicitor’s trust account and made deposits into the accounts yourself,” the judge said.
“You knew what you were doing was dodgy. Intercepted phone calls reveal that you told one of the others involved in the scheme that if he deposited ‘nine’ at each ‘drop’ it would not get ‘flagged’ by which you clearly meant avoiding the banks’ reporting thresholds.”
Simpson said if the deposits went into his trust account “[the banks] will happily take it”.
“They will ask for your ID but it is not going to get flagged,” he said.
In another call, Simpson was asked if a car could be placed in the trust’s name.
“It’s a bit embarrassing if ah, you know, he gets caught speeding or something,” Simpson said, adding he would be the one to get the infringement notice.
Despite Simpson only keeping $18,000 as payment for his criminal deeds, Justice van Bohemen said he was “a key facilitator”.
“You used your professional skill and knowledge and your solicitor’s trust fund both to make happen and to lend respectability to an operation laundering large amounts of money obtained from serious drug offending.”
The New Zealand Law Society had dealt with Simpson’s case in-house, the tribunal’s decision reads, and as a result did not seek an order for costs.
It did, however, ask Simpson to reimburse costs the Law Society must pay the tribunal.
The tribunal ruled the costs would be modest, just $386, because of Simpson’s co-operation with the process.
“We find no sound reason to require other lawyers to shoulder the financial burden of this necessary process which has been caused by Mr Simpson’s actions.”
Simpson was one of several arrested after a covert police investigation into the activities of the Comancheros, code-named Operation Nova.
More than 80 police officers were involved in the raids during April last year, which led to about $4m of assets being seized, including firearms and several luxury vehicles such as a Rolls-Royce Wraith and gold-plated Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
Those included a well-known media personality, who had his money laundering and participating in an organised criminal group charges dismissed during his trial last month. He continues to have interim name suppression.
Accountant Wiwini Himi Hakaraia was also cleared of four charges – participating in an organised crime group and three counts of money laundering – but fined $2000 for possession of cocaine.