Category Archives: Fraud
A worldwide gang of criminals stole £29 million in a matter of hours by hacking their way into a database of pre-paid debit cards then draining cash machines around the world, US prosecutors said.
Seven people are under arrest in the US in connection with the case, which prosecutors said involved thousands of thefts from ATMs using bogus magnetic swipe cards carrying information from Middle Eastern banks.
The fraudsters moved with astounding speed to loot financial institutions around the world, working in cells including one in New York, Brooklyn US Attorney Loretta Lynch said.
She called it “a massive 21st-century bank heist” carried out by brazen thieves.
One of the suspects was caught on surveillance cameras, his backpack increasingly loaded down with cash, authorities said. Others took photos of themselves with giant wads of notes as they made their way up and down Manhattan.
Hackers got into bank databases, eliminated withdrawal limits on pre-paid debit cards and created access codes. Others loaded that data on to any plastic card with a magnetic stripe – an old hotel key card or an expired credit card worked as long as it carried the account data and correct access codes.
A network of operatives then fanned out to rapidly withdraw money in multiple cities, authorities said. The cells would take a cut of the money, then launder it through expensive purchases or ship it wholesale to the global ringleaders. Ms Lynch did not say where they were located.
It appears no individuals lost money. The thieves plundered funds held by the banks that back up prepaid credit cards, not individual or business accounts, Ms Lynch said.
She called it a “virtual criminal flash mob” and a security analyst said it was the biggest ATM fraud case she had heard of.
There were two separate attacks, one in December that reaped £3.2 million worldwide and one in February that snared about £26 million in 10 hours with about 36,000 transactions. The scheme involved attacks on two banks, Rakbank in the United Arab Emirates and the Bank of Muscat in Oman, prosecutors said.
The plundered ATMs were in Japan, Russia, Romania, Egypt, Colombia, Britain, Sri Lanka, Canada and several other countries, and law enforcement agencies from more than a dozen nations were involved in the investigation, US prosecutors said.
The accused ringleader in the US cell, Alberto Yusi Lajud-Pena, was reportedly killed in the Dominican Republic late last month, prosecutors said. More investigations continue and other arrests have been made in other countries.
An indictment unsealed yesterday accused Lajud-Pena and the other seven New York suspects of withdrawing £1.8 million in cash from hacked accounts in less than a day.
Such ATM fraud schemes are not uncommon, but the £29 million stolen in this one was at least double the amount involved in previously known cases, said Avivah Litan, an analyst who covers security issues for Gartner.
Middle Eastern banks and payment processors are “a bit behind” on security and screening technologies that are supposed to prevent this kind of fraud, but it happens around the world, she said.
“It’s a really easy way to turn digits into cash,” Ms Litan said.
Some of the fault lies with the ubiquitous magnetic strips on the back of the cards. The rest of the world has largely abandoned cards with magnetic strips in favour of ones with built-in chips that are nearly impossible to copy. But because US banks and merchants have stuck to cards with magnetic strips, they are still accepted around the world.
Ms Lynch would not say who masterminded the attacks globally, who the hackers are or where they were located, citing an ongoing investigation.
The New York suspects were US citizens originally from the Dominican Republic, lived in the New York City suburb orf Yonkers and were mostly in their 20s. Ms Lynch said they all knew one another and were recruited together, as were cells in other countries. They were charged with conspiracy and money laundering. If convicted, they face 10 years in prison.
Arrests began in March. Lajud-Pena was found dead with a suitcase full of about 100,000 dollars in cash, and the investigation into his death is continuing separately. Dominican officials said they arrested a man in the killing who said it was a botched robbery, and two other suspects were on the run.
A Cambridgeshire man has been jailed for faking data for a clinical trial, health regulators said.
Steven Eaton was sentenced to three months in prison for altering pre-clinical trial data, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said.
He has become the first person in the UK to be jailed under the scientific safety laws.
The 47-year-old was working at the Edinburgh branch of US pharmaceutical firm Aptuit when he came up with the scam.
Officials at the company realised that something was amiss and contacted authorities in February 2009.
Investigators from the MHRA discovered that Eaton had been selectively reporting research data since 2003.
Edinburgh Sheriff Court heard how Eaton changed analytical data that would be used to determine the concentration of medicine that could be given to clinical trial subjects.
A spokesman said that the data manipulation ensured an experiment was deemed successful when in fact it had failed.
“Mr Eaton’s actions directly impacted on the validity of clinical trials and delayed a number of medicines coming to market, including one to treat depression,” said Gerald Heddell, director of inspection, enforcement and standards at the MHRA.
“The sentence sends a message that we will not hesitate to prosecute those whose actions have the potential to harm public health.”
The MHRA said that is the first time they have successfully prosecuted someone using the 1999 Good Laboratory Practice Regulations.
A self-styled Italian lawyer who became known as the Devil’s Advocate and represented Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, was found guilty today of tricking people into thinking he was a bona fide legal professional.
Giovanni di Stefano, who earned his nickname for taking on “unwinnable” cases, was convicted on 25 charges including deception, fraud and money laundering between 2001 and 2011.
The 57-year-old conned clients out of millions of pounds by setting himself up as a lawyer when he had no legal qualifications and was not registered to work as a lawyer in Italy or the UK.
He used the Italian word “avvocato” on business cards, letterheads and identification documents to give clients – and the judiciary – the impression he was an advocate.
Di Stefano did not react as the 25 guilty verdicts were delivered at London’s Southwark Crown Court.
The jury of eight women and four men took four hours and 10 minutes to reach its decisions.
During the trial di Stefano told of his links to Robert Mugabe, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and his “friendship” with the daughter of Slobodan Milosevic.
The court was shown a BBC documentary from 2004 in which he described Saddam as a “nice guy” and boasted of being asked to defend killers such as Jeremy Bamber, Harold Shipman, Kenneth Noye and Linda Calvey.
He was born in the small town of Petrella Tifernina in central Italy, but moved to the UK as a boy and went to school in Wollaston, Northamptonshire.
Di Stefano, of North Stream, Marshside, Canterbury, was found guilty of nine counts of obtaining a money transfer by deception, eight counts of fraud, three counts of acquiring criminal property, two counts of using a false instrument, one count of attempting to obtain a money transfer by deception, one count of obtaining property by deception and one count of using criminal property.
During the trial prosecutor David Aaronberg QC told the jury that di Stefano developed “something of a reputation” among convicted criminals, lawyers, the media and the wider community.
“It was this that has gained him the fame, or the notoriety, that he enjoys,” he said.
“He was a man who was willing to provide legal services to clients whose cases others considered unwinnable or too difficult to defend.
“He was willing to argue for unpopular causes.”
Judge Alistair McCreath, the Recorder of Westminster, remanded di Stefano in custody for sentencing at 10.30am tomorrow.
Hilary Ryan from the Crown Prosecution Service’s Organised Crime Division said: “For many years, Giovanni di Stefano described himself to potential clients as a lawyer and usually as an Italian avvocato. He was nothing of the sort.
“When the law caught up with him, he falsely claimed to have obtained various formal, legal qualifications. He then went on to claim that having taught himself the law, he was entitled to describe himself as a lawyer. This was fraud by anyone’s standards and a charade that he kept up for over eight years in order to line his own pockets.
“People rightly expect the utmost integrity from those in the legal profession. Giovanni di Stefano routinely tricked his clients and abused their trust. Those who seek to behave in such a cynical way should take note of this conviction today.”
DI STEFANO’S EARLY LIFE OF CRIME
Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic and Robert Mugabe, Giovanni di Stefano has always cut a controversial figure.
The self-styled Italian lawyer built his reputation acting for notorious criminals in cases which propelled him to fame within his profession and even brought him into contact with Osama bin Laden.
But while he made a name for himself in legal circles, di Stefano led his own life of crime.
His relationship with the justice system began rather unusually for an advocate, starting when he first fell foul of the law.
Born in the small town of Petrella Tifernina in central Italy, di Stefano, now 57, moved to the UK as a boy and was educated in Wollaston, Northamptonshire.
However, he found himself behind bars during the late 1970s after going on a spending spree with a credit card stolen from his father.
He told his trial that he felt “aggrieved” and “hard done by” after he was imprisoned for longer than his older co-defendant owing to an “incompetent barrister” who, he claimed, failed to advise him properly.
After his release, he told jurors, he felt compelled to take on the law and devoted much of his time to attending lectures on the subject while working at the University of Cambridge’s physiology department as a research technician.
He pursued his desire to enter the legal profession despite a further conviction in 1984 when he was found guilty of conspiracy charges at the Old Bailey.
But he told jurors he eventually considered himself to be “learned” in the law and believed he could provide legal services to anyone who requested his assistance.
He began to advise clients, eventually setting himself apart from his peers by taking on apparently “unwinnable” cases and earning himself the “Devil’s Advocate” nickname.
Di Stefano – who operated under the company name Studio Legalese Internazionale, which translates as The International Law Firm – used the Italian word “avvocato” on business cards, letterheads and identification documents to give the impression he was an advocate.
He found himself thrust into the spotlight after taking on a string of shady clients including Moors murderer Ian Brady and Great Train robber Ronnie Biggs.
In 2002 he famously acted for millionaire property developer Nicholas van Hoogstraten, managing to overturn his manslaughter conviction after unearthing a legal loophole.
In further high-profile court appearances, he represented M25 killer Kenneth Noye and murderer Jeremy Bamber who was jailed for life in 1986 over the deaths of his adoptive parents, sister and her twin sons.
The outspoken Italian has caused a stir throughout his career owing to his often strident remarks and links to some of the world’s most despised politicians.
Acting for Hussein, he attempted to overturn the Iraqi dictator’s death sentence and in 2007 termed his execution a “crime against humanity” and “wilful murder”.
He sparked outrage again, a year later, branding Britain a “vindictive state” for refusing to release ailing 80-year-old Biggs from prison.
But speculation always surrounded his credentials which were called into question by a High Court judge in 2004, during an appeal by timeshare fraudster John “Goldfinger” Palmer.
Then, the court was told that any European lawyer should be granted the same courtesies and rights of audience as English lawyers.
Di Stefano produced an Italian identity card showing his occupation as advocate, and membership cards of the American Bar Association and International Bar Association.
During his trial, the former director of Scottish football team Dundee remained adamant that he always believed he was qualified to practice.
Reliving moments of his colourful past, he spoke with apparent fondness for Milosevic, telling jurors how the late Yugoslav leader invited him to stay at his home in 1993, provided him with an honorary doctorate of law from Belgrade’s university and made him a Yugoslav citizen.
The businessman, who once insisted that Milosevic died an innocent man, further told how he struck up a relationship with the former president’s daughter.
He met Hussein in 1998 – following an introduction from Milosevic – and was introduced to bin Laden that same year.
Di Stefano, of North Stream, in Canterbury, Kent, was arrested in Majorca in February 2011.
By that stage he was clearly familiar with the intricacies of the judicial system.
Yet seemingly he believed he was still above the law.
A London barrister with a history of tax evasion and bankruptcy has been jailed after failing to pay more than £80,000 in tax.
Edward Paul Agbaje, 60, who worked from 1 Gray’s Inn Square specialising in criminal law, charged clients VAT but failed to pass the cash to HM Revenue & Customs.
He received an 18-month sentence for failing to pay more than £80,000 in tax over a seven-year period after being convicted at the Old Bailey of two counts of cheating the public revenue.
Agbaje, who had been declared bankrupt twice, in 1999 and 2008, claimed in court to have spent the money gambling.
He had been deregistered for VAT by HMRC in February 2005 after failing to submit complete VAT returns dating back to 1994. This meant he was barred from trading above the VAT threshold, which was then £58,000.
He continued to trade, paying no VAT from 2 February 2005 to 17 March 2012. He used his invalid VAT number on invoices during this period and collected more than £59,000 in VAT on fees from clients, pocketing the money rather than passing it on to HMRC.
Assistant director of criminal investigations at HMRC Andrew Sackey said: ‘As a barrister Agbaje should have known better than to try to cheat the system. He thought he was above the law but HMRC will not stand by while criminals try to cheat the taxpayer.’
Agbaje’s offences were discovered during a routine VAT visit to his chambers, when HMRC found that he was using his old, deregistered VAT number on invoices.
HMRC currently has a legal profession taskforce operating in London, targeting non-payment from the sector.
A self-styled Italian lawyer who became known as the Devil’s Advocate told today of his links to Robert Mugabe, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and his “friendship” with the daughter of Slobodan Milosevic.
Giovanni di Stefano said the late Yugoslav president allowed him to stay in his home, provided him with an honorary doctorate of law from Belgrade’s university and made him a Yugoslav citizen.
During this time he struck up a relationship with Milosevic’s daughter.
He said the former leader, who died before his trial for war crimes concluded, invited him to stay in 1993.
“Slobodan Milosevic liked me very, very much,” he told Southwark Crown Court.
“I enjoyed, shall we say, a friendship with his daughter.”
Di Stefano, 57, who earned his Devil’s Advocate nickname for taking on “unwinnable” cases, is accused of tricking people into thinking he was a bona fide legal professional, when in fact he was not a qualified lawyer.
He told the court Milosevic had given him a “doctorate of law” simply because he had asked.
The man also introduced him to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 1998 and claimed he was present when UN inspectors went into the country looking for weapons of mass destruction.
That same year, he was also introduced to bin Laden, he told the court.
“He was at the al-Rashid hotel, dressed in western… It was only a 10-minute meeting,” he said.
Asked if he had any dealings with Mugabe during his career, he replied: “Of course, yes, I knew him – know him.”
He said the pair initially met in Rome.
“He was shopping with his wife,” he told the court.
“The last time (we met) was a conference.”
Questioned over the precise nature of their relationship, he said there were “money transfers” made to Zimbabwe, adding: “There were transactions with the Mugabe regime.”
Earlier, the court heard di Stefano, 57, served time in prison, in one case after going on a spending-spree with a credit card stolen from his father in the late 1970s.
In 1984, he found himself in “more serious trouble” and was convicted at the Old Bailey on three conspiracy charges, the jury was told.
The 57-year-old, originally from central Italy, now faces 25 charges including deception, fraud and money laundering between 2001 and 2011.
He today accepted he was not qualified to practice as a lawyer but said he did not believe he was doing anything wrong at the time.
Leonard Smith QC, defending, asked: “Having heard all the evidence in this case, having thought about matters, do you accept now that you were not in fact qualified to provide these legal services during the indictment period?”
He replied: “Yes, but that is not what I thought.”
He added: “During that period, and even today, I honestly believe that I can advise and provide legal services to anyone that seeks my assistance.
“I accept, upon advice, everything that’s been said subsequently.
“At the time, then, even now, I have difficulty in accepting that I can’t because I am a lawyer.
“I am learned in the law, have a hell of a lot of experience and I don’t think anyone can question my competency there and that’s what I honestly believe.”
Asked if he ever described himself as a barrister or solicitor, he said: “Never.”
He accepted he relied upon “star-studded” legal teams to help him fight his high-profile cases, telling jurors: “I have to protect my clients in case I don’t know something or miss something and that’s an excellent way of ensuring that the client is protected and boy, was I right, we got some great results.”
The court has heard how di Stefano was born in the small town of Petrella Tifernina in central Italy, but moved to the UK as a boy and went to school in Wollaston, Northamptonshire.
He took an interest in the law after he was jailed following the credit card spree.
He conceded he felt “aggrieved” and “hard done by” after he was imprisoned for longer than his older co-defendant owing to an “incompetent barrister” who, he claimed, failed to advise him properly.
After his release, he devoted much of his time to attending lectures on the law while working at the University of Cambridge’s physiology department as a research technician, he told jurors.
Di Stefano, of North Stream, Marshside, Canterbury in Kent, denies nine counts of obtaining a money transfer by deception, eight counts of fraud, three counts of acquiring criminal property, two counts of using a false instrument, one count of attempting to obtain a money transfer by deception, one count of obtaining property by deception and one count of using criminal property.
The trial was adjourned until tomorrow.
A London solicitor has been jailed for 10 years for running a £20m sham marriage scam.
Tevfick Souleiman (pictured), partner at north London firm Souleiman GA Solicitors, and immigration advisers Cenk Guclu and Furrah Kosimov, were found guilty at the Central Criminal Court of conspiracy to breach immigration law.
Souleiman, 39, whose wife works for the Crown Prosecution Service, was also convicted of receiving proceeds of crime.
Zafer Altinbas, another of the firm’s immigration advisers, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to breach immigration law and to receiving money from the proceeds of crime. All received custodial sentences.
Between 2004 and 2011 the defendants arranged marriage packages for men from outside the EU, providing fake tenancy agreements, employers’ references and forged documents.
Women from eastern European countries were flown in to marry men they had never met, and flown out the next day after being paid by the firm. Men paid up to £14,000 for the service, which enabled them to live and claim benefits in the UK.
Sentencing Souleiman, Judge John Bevan QC said: ‘A heavy responsibility for upholding the rule of law rests with lawyers. If the public cannot trust the integrity of lawyers, who can they trust? You have destroyed that trust by driving a coach and horses through these rules.’
Hassan Emir, a second partner at Souleiman GA Solicitors, told the Gazette he had joined the firm in 2011 and was not implicated in the case.
A spokesman for the Solicitors Regulation Authority said that now the criminal case has concluded, Souleiman would be referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal for investigation.
A former Surrey Police officer will stand trial accused of 58 charges relating to fraud.
Former Ch Insp Tanya Brookes, 45, was arrested in January and appeared at Basingstoke Magistrates’ Court earlier.
She was later bailed and is due to face trial on 12 March at Winchester Crown Court.
Surrey Police said Ms Brookes was serving with the force at the time of the alleged crimes.
She has since resigned from the force.
A senior barrister who specialises in fraud cases has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison for failing to pay £600,000 in VAT.
Rohan Pershad QC, 44, of Hammersmith, west London, had stopped paying tax in 1999, Blackfriars Crown Court heard.
He had been found guilty of cheating the public revenue to pocket the cash over a 12-year period, and had tried to claim that he was “extremely poor at paperwork”.
Prosecutors said he had bought two properties in Somerset and Surrey for a total of £1.5 million.
In sentencing, Judge Aidan Marron QC told Pershad: “You have brought disgrace on yourself and have aggravated that position by fighting this case and lying in front of a jury.
“It saddens me that I have to deal with you.”
Describing Pershad as having been “a person of substance to date”, the judge added: “It is sad that you, a successful and otherwise compassionate man, should have sunk to these particular levels.”
Pershad, who specialised in financial disputes, professional negligence and insurance cases, had been guilty of a “persistent” fraud, the judge said.
During his nine-day trial, jurors heard that most barristers were self-employed and were legally required to pay their own VAT.
Pershad stopped doing so in 1999, shortly before he moved to the Thirty Nine Essex Street chambers.
He then fell off the tax register, meaning he “disappeared off the VAT radar” and was classed as a “missing trader” but he continued to work, the court heard.
The prosecution said he knew what his legal responsibilities were.
The judge said: “It is clear to me and was clear during the trial that you decided to capitalise on that situation and in the ensuing 12 years you cheated the revenue of £600,000.
“You willingly and knowingly engaged in persistent and consistent dishonesty.”
Pershad, a father of four children aged from 13 to 21 years, is now a “broken man” who has brought shame on his family, according to Mukul Chawla QC defending.
Before this case he had been considered “a man of previous exemplary good character”, Mr Chawla noted.
He said: “He will never live down the very public humiliation caused by his actions to him but perhaps more pertinently caused to his family.
“Mr Pershad is a broken man. He is never going to be able to work again in the sphere he had previously worked. He is going to have to suffer the shame of going to prison and the consequences of that to his family.”
Mr Chawla suggested that Pershad was not motivated by finances and was not living the high life with expensive cars. His houses had large mortgages, he told the court.
He also suggested that “in the latter period” of the fraud Pershad was “suffering from a depressive illness exacerbated by the breakdown of his marriage”.
A former police officer has been given a suspended prison sentence after admitting forging a woman’s signature when she reported being harassed by an ex-partner.
Stuart Williams, 37, who has resigned from his Pc position with West Midlands Police, signed the woman’s name on a retraction statement, thereby withdrawing her report of harassment, without her knowledge.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said Williams was sentenced to four months in prison at Coventry Crown Court, suspended for a year, and ordered to pay costs.
In July 2010 the woman made a report to West Midlands Police that her ex-partner was harassing and threatening her.
Williams, who worked in the Wolverhampton area, took a statement from her and was later allocated the crime report to investigate. Attempts were made to find the alleged offender but they proved unsuccessful.
In May 2011 another officer filed the crime report as undetected as police had apparently received a retraction statement signed by the woman, completed by Williams.
The IPCC said it became evident that the woman’s signature had been forged when in July 2011 she again reported harassment by the same man and denied ever having agreed to or signing an earlier retraction statement.
The ex-partner was subsequently arrested.
West Midlands Police referred the matter to the IPCC in August 2011 and, following the IPCC investigation, the CPS decided to prosecute Williams for forgery.
IPCC commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne said: “It is hard to understand this officer’s motivation for forging the woman’s signature, but in doing so he placed a vulnerable woman at risk and closed a crime which should have remained open.
“Responding promptly to domestic abuse allegations and investigating them thoroughly is a high priority for all police forces and it is therefore very disturbing that this officer failed in his duty to protect, committing a criminal offence of forgery, which could have had dire consequences for the woman.
“The officer would now have faced a gross misconduct hearing but we understand he has resigned.”
A statement from West Midlands Police said: “The public should be reassured that West Midlands Police expects the highest standards of professionalism from its officers.
“The force’s Professional Standards Department works closely with the Crown Prosecution Service and the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
“The force will fully investigate any complaint and take any necessary action against an officer involved if the complaint is upheld.
“Maintaining the highest professional standards is essential as part of West Midlands Police’s ongoing commitment to securing and maintaining the trust and confidence of the communities it serves.
“The officer in question has tendered his resignation which has been accepted with immediate effect.”
An Italian man who claimed to be a top lawyer – and became known as The Devil’s Advocate for taking on “unwinnable” cases – conned clients out of £1 million, a court heard today.
Giovanni di Stefano, 57, who moved to Britain when he was five, is accused of setting himself up as a bonafide lawyer when he had no legal qualifications and was not registered to work as a lawyer in Italy or the UK.
The alleged fraudster used the Italian word “avvocato” on business cards, letterheads and identification documents to give clients – and the judiciary – the impression he was an advocate. He is believed to have acted for some of Britain’s most notorious criminals – including Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, and multiple murderer Jeremy Bamber
But, in fact, he was telling “deliberate lies” and was “not a qualified lawyer at all”, the prosecution said.
Di Stefano is on trial at Southwark Crown Court in London charged with 25 counts including deception, fraud and money laundering.
Prosecutor David Aaronberg QC told the jury as he opened the case: “In a sentence, he is charged with various offences of deception, fraud, money laundering and forgery, and the prosecution say he committed those offences between 2004 and 2012.”
The lawyer told the panel of eight women and four men that di Stefano developed “something of a reputation” among convicted criminals, lawyers, the media and the wider community.
“It was this that has gained him the fame, or the notoriety, that he enjoys,” he said.
“He was a man who was willing to provide legal services to clients whose cases others considered unwinnable or too difficult to defend.
“He was willing to argue for unpopular causes. Somewhere along the way over the years, he acquired the soubriquet, or nickname, ‘The Devil’s Advocate’.”
Mr Aaronberg said di Stefano operated under the company name Studio Legalese Internazionale – which translates as The International Law Firm – and provided “legal advice” and “legal services” to people with all kinds of cases.
He showed the jury pictures of business cards and headed note paper in which di Stefano calls himself an “avvocato” and said he was attempting to convey “a clear impression to anyone who is reading these documents that he is writing as an ‘avvocato’, or advocate”.
He said: “The prosecution’s case is, that by doing this, he was giving a clear indication – which was false – that he was a qualified lawyer.
“Not only did he use the term ‘avvocato’ freely when he was not entitled to do so, he also told a number of individuals on many different occasions that he was a lawyer, when he was not.”
Mr Aaronberg told the jury there ten victims, or sets of victims.
He said: “Between them, between June 2004 and December 2011, they lost a little under £1 million in sterling – £929,828.
“One person lost 10,000 euro and another lost about six-and-half thousand US dollars.
“Some of those who lost money are people who themselves had been convicted of criminal offences.
“But, more often, it was their family members who were prevailed upon to hand over money to Mr di Stefano.”
Di Stefano denies nine counts of obtaining a money transfer by deception, eight counts of fraud, three counts of acquiring criminal property, two counts of using a false instrument, one count of attempting to obtain a money transfer by deception, one count of obtaining property by deception and one count of using criminal property.
Di Stefano, of North Stream, Marshside, Canterbury in Kent, was born in the small town of Petrella Tifernina in central Italy, but moved to the UK as a boy and went to school in Woolaston, Northamptonshire.
Mr Aaronberg said di Stefano deceived his victims because “he would have known full well that he was not qualified to practise at the Italian Bar, any more than he was a surgeon who was qualified to perform surgery, or a pilot who was qualified to fly a plane”.
The prosecutor explained to the jury that in 2002 the defendant managed to persuade a High Court Judge, Mr Justice Peter Smith, to rule that he was indeed an “avvocato” after the defendant was denied permission to visit a prospective client by the governor at Belmarsh prison.
Mr Aaronberg said: “He personally informed Mr Justice Peter Smith that he was ‘an Italian advocate of the Italian Bar’ and ‘a responsible lawyer’.
“In the course of the submissions Mr di Stefano also indicated that he was subject to ‘a code of conduct that has been inherent between client and attorney’ as a consequence of which he was unable to divulge certain information requested by the judge.
“We suggest on that occasion he was telling deliberate lies.”
The barrister told the jury di Stefano would “point to this judgment” for many years when anybody questioned his credentials.
Di Stefano, who is on bail, is permitted to sit out of the dock and behind his defence barrister, Leonard Smith QC, so that he can communicate with him more easily.
Mr Aaronberg went on to tell the jury about some of di Stefano’s alleged victims.
He said that between June and November 2004 di Stefano dishonestly obtained money totalling £120,000 by falsely claiming to Paula Gregory-Dade – the now ex-wife of a convicted murderer called Paul Bush – that he was an Italian lawyer.
The barrister said that Bush wanted to enlist the services of di Stefano after the inmate saw a documentary in prison about the “Devil’s Advocate”.
Mr Aaronberg said Ms Gregory-Dade was convinced by di Stefano that he had two points of law that could be argued in an appeal against Bush’s conviction.
The defendant told her his legal services would cost £20,000 and she needed to pay £10,000 up front, Mr Aaronberg said.
“Paula Gregory-Dade believed that she was dealing with a qualified lawyer,” he told the panel.
“She was anxious to do whatever she could for her partner, and in order to raise the money requested, re-mortgaged her home.”
Di Stefano is also accused of telling Ms Gregory-Dade that he would hold £100,000 as a security to be offered to the Court of Appeal in respect of a bail application to be made on behalf of Bush.
Ms Gregory-Dade raised the cash by borrowing £30,000 in bank loans, £60,000 from another ex-partner Roger Dade and £10,000 from Bush’s stepmother Shirley Attree.
Mr Aaronberg said di Stefano put the money into an account that already had an overdraft of £64,000, and just days later the account was £55,000 overdrawn again.
The barrister told the jury that di Stefano may well have believed Bush might have been a candidate for bail, but lawyer Peter Kelson QC advised him there would be no possibility of that.
Bush’s appeal was eventually dismissed, but by that stage di Stefano no longer had the money which he had promised to keep in a business account.
The next alleged victim Mr Aaronberg told the jury about was French national Laurent Penchef, who was jailed for 18 years in 2002 after he was convicted of importing a vast amount of cocaine into the UK.
After an appeal was initially rejected, Penchef sought the help of di Stefano, who he believed may be able to help lodge another appeal or help him get repatriated to France to serve his sentience.
Penchef was told he would need to pay 10,000 euro (£8,556), and his parents agreed to send the money to di Stefano.
However, the defendant “did little or nothing to assist Mr Penchef” and the convicted smuggler demanded di Stefano pay back the money to his parents, but it was not returned.
Despite the cash never being returned, the charge is listed as an “attempt” to obtain a transfer to avoid “technical issues in relation to jurisdiction” because the money was sent from France to Italy.
The trial continues at 10am tomorrow.