Solicitor and wife accused of stealing £1.4m from law firm

A SOLICITOR and his wife funded a lavish lifestyle by stealing £1.4m from the law firm where he was a senior partner, a jury was told.

Simon Morgan and his wife Ann, who was the office manager at Milners in Leeds, allegedly plundered the firm's own and client accounts for two-and-a-half years to finance their spending sprees.

They used company money to pay for expensive family holidays abroad, flights by private jet and putting a deposit on a Ferrari, it was claimed yesterday at Leeds Crown Court.

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In addition company cheques paid off their numerous credit card bills run up for hotels, designer clothes and meals at their favourite restaurants including Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire and The Box Tree at Ilkley.

Martin Bethel QC, prosecuting, showed the jury a photograph of a "very expensive house" The Manor in Alwoodley, Leeds, which the couple moved into during the period.

"We say a large amount of the money stolen from the firm went to refurbishing the house, its gardens and its grounds," he said.

They were able to finance their "extremely extravagant lifestyle" by putting false chits through the law firm's accounts because of her position as office manager, he said.

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Morgan, 50, now of Main Street, Bilbrough, near York, denies six charges of theft between January 2002 and July 2004.

His wife Ann Young Morgan, 55, is not present in court. She has been found to be under disability and unfit to stand trial for psychiatric reasons and the jury has been told they must decide if she did the same acts charged against her with her husband.

Mr Bethel told the jury the offences happened after two solicitors went into partnership with Mr Morgan who until then owned Milners in Great George Street, Leeds.

He became the senior partner, with a 52 per cent share, while Simon Bass and Giles Ward each bought a 24 per cent stake for 182,400 in 2001. Morgan was to draw 10,000 a month while they were to take 5,000 and no one was to have a company credit card.

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The new partners were told that Mrs Morgan had qualifications both as a solicitor and an accountant, unaware that she had neither. They agreed she would continue as office manager, taking charge of the accounting but would draw no salary as she had private means.

Mr Bethel said in fact she not only drew a substantial salary but "took huge amounts of the firm's money as well."

He said it was the Crown's case she had no private means, that this was "just a myth" and that Simon Morgan knew this "and knew that the money funding his lifestyle was coming from the firm."

While she only had authority to sign cheques alone for up to 5,000 she frequently signed for much larger amounts,

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Mr Bethel said that to do so she used a system of false chits made out for buying office equipment, books, postage, advertising and other items to account for the money.

Some of the invoices paid through the firm included furniture and building work at their house, as well as thousands of pounds for gardening.

But he pointed out "there wasn't a garden at the office in Great George Street".

The prosecution will continue opening its case today.

The trial is expected to last into January.

THE jury heard examples of the pair's extravagant lifestyle on stolen funds. It allegedly included a family holiday for five to Antigua in 2003 costing more than 20,000.

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Later the same year they funded a skiing holiday for six in the Alpine resort of Courchevel including a flight to France by private jet from Leeds Bradford Airport.

Morgan and his wife also paid for a private flight to Inverness for a weekend in Scotland.

The prosecution claim fees were also paid to the University of Buckingham for Mrs Young Morgan's son Benjamin by her first marriage.

On one occasion a chauffeur- driven car collected him from the university and drove him to Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons restaurant with rooms in Oxfordshire, then drove a group to the Dorchester in London before returning later to the restaurant.

Olwen Dudgeon

Simon morgan: Accused of financing extravagant lifestyle through fraud.