High-profile criminal solicitor Tim Meehan gave up his freedom by revealing his crimes, and allegedly those of former colleagues, to the state’s criminal watchdog after he was sacked from his Brisbane law firm.
Meehan, who represented Daniel Morcombe’s killer Brett Peter Cowan, was sentenced on Friday to five and a half years in prison for fraud and falsifying records.
The Brisbane Supreme Court heard after declaring bankruptcy in March 2013, Meehan encouraged clients to pay him in cash to avoid having his salary garnished.
Over four years Meehan and two other people, known to the court as S1 and S2, would sometimes deposit some of the cash in the firm’s trust account as required by law.
The remainder of the money was then allegedly distributed between the trio.
The court heard staff were encouraged not to give invoices or record cash transactions and that clients were often charged what the firm thought they would be willing to pay instead of drawing up a cost agreement.
Meehan is believed to have personally pocketed between $200,000 to half a million throughout the scheme.
From November 2015 the Crime and Corruption Commission sought a series of financial documents from the firm concerning three clients, known to the court as X1, X2 and X3, for an unrelated investigation.
Meehan provided a series of falsified records to cover up his fraudulent dealings and was allegedly told how to fake the documents by S1.
The CCC was actually oblivious of Meehan’s scheme until September 2016 when he confessed of his volition – a month after being sacked from the firm.
In handing down the sentence, Justice Roslyn Atkinson noted it was highly unlikely investigators would ever have known about the fraud unless Meehan had come forward.
“It is evidence of remorse and contrition,” Justice Atkinson said.
S1 and S2 have denied the allegations against them.
Prosecutor Michael Byrne QC said due to the lack of official records it was not possible to put an accurate figure on the scheme overall, although it is believed to be more than $600,000.
Many of the estimated payments involved are from Meehan’s recollection and are suspected to have been the proceeds of crime.
Justice Atkinson said Meehan’s motivation for the fraud was only to maintain his high income.
“It’s not a case where you were ravaged by any addition to gambling or drugs,” she said.
“Your conduct has brought you into disrepute and it also brings the legal profession into disrepute because it suggests that this behaviour is acceptable in the legal profession, which it most certainly is not.
“It serves to feed public perception that lawyers are greedy and self-serving.”
Outside court, defence solicitor Kristy Bell said Meehan made no excuse for his behaviour.
“He takes full responsibility for his role in the offending,” Ms Bell said.
Meehan has been in custody since pleading guilty in June to one count of aggravated fraud and eight counts of fraudulently producing false documents.
The 41-year-old will be eligible for parole in December 2018.