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Ottawa lawyer disbarred after $2.5 million goes missing

Posted by uLaw Editorial Team on Apr 16, 2018 8:07:00 AM

A longtime Ottawa lawyer who is potentially suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia is disbarred after apparently losing track of $2.5 million entrusted to him over the course of several years.

After suffering a stroke in 2013, Paul Thomas McEnery resumed his practice as a commercial and real estate lawyer, executing estates and selling property on behalf of clients until 2015, when former clients and McEnery's own administrative staff reported complaints to the law society.

One such complaint, launched by a former client several years ago, started with the sale of a condo that McEnery handled on his behalf. Once the property was sold, McEnery suggested his client could then invest the money into "bridge financing loans". Promising a healthy return of 7.5 per cent, McEnery stated the loans would be backed by the value of McEnery's law office building, even though his firm doesn't actually own the building.

McEnery's client agreed to the scheme, but when he attempted to get his money back, it was nowhere to be found. At least seven clients have had similar situations occur to them whilst attempting to get their money back from McEnery.

According to the Law Society, the money disappeared under "suspicious circumstances, without explanation" or at least that's what was said in 2015, when the investigation was first being conducted shortly after McEnery's high profile suspension.

But now, three years later, it's still undetermined where the money actually ended up.

Where did it go? It appears McEnery himself might not even know. In 2015, when McEnery's case was first publicized by the press, his lawyer indicated that mental health problems were underpinning the whole ordeal. A recent interview with McEnery's lawyer by the Ottawa Citizen sheds some light on the situation. According to William Trudell, McEnery might be suffering from cognitive impairment from dementia or Alzheimers, although no evidence was submitted during Law Society hearings.

"He really has little memory of events," said Trudell, who indicated he is unable to help is client because he has been unable to receive instructions.

Although disbarred, McEnery isn't being ordered to pay costs to the Law Society's lengthy and complicated probe into McEnery's accounting. He isn't facing criminal charges, either.

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But that doesn't mean he's off the hook entirely. Several former clients have launched lawsuits attempting to get their money back. And if their claims are successful, damages will be sought from the Lawyer Compensation Fund, in which McEnery will (somehow) be expected to reimburse. As of the writing of this story, a total of $1.5 million is being sought by at least seven former clients. This number might grow larger in the future.

Documents filed in the case against McEnery indicate that he changed the locks to his office in 2015 and also tried taking an accounting computer away once.

 

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