A former Vancouver lawyer involved in one of the largest legal fraud cases in B.C. history was sentenced Tuesday to seven years in prison — a term that was sought by the Crown.
Martin Wirick, 54, pleaded guilty last Friday to fraud and forgery in connection with 107 fraudulent real estate transactions between 2000 and 2002 that involved him and his client, Tarsem Singh Gill, a former Vancouver real estate developer.
The money scammed totalled nearly $40 million. The trial for Gill has not begun.
In handing down the sentence Tuesday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Patrick Dohm said Wirick had brought shame on his profession.
"Hopefully what Mr. Justice Dohm's judgment will do is show that when a lawyer does stray from the path, there are serious consequences that arise," prosecutor Kevin Gillett said Tuesday outside court.
Last August, Wirick and Gill were charged with two counts of fraud and theft. Wirick was also charged with uttering forged documents and Gill with possession of stolen property.
Their scheme came to light in May 2002. Wirick, who had practised law for more than 20 years, then admitted to the Law Society of B.C. that he had misappropriated trust funds in real estate transactions by failing to pay out and discharge mortgages. Instead, he had applied the funds to other purposes, in breach of his undertakings.
Wirick admitted forging mortgage documents and filing the legal paperwork for the homebuyers he knew had no intention of living in the properties, court heard last Friday.
He then flipped the properties and, instead of using that money to pay the initial mortgages, he left them open.
The Crown alleged Wirick funnelled the cash back to Gill to fund new construction projects as part of a pyramid scheme in which new mortgages would be used to pay down old ones.
Wirick was disbarred in December 2002 and had declared bankruptcy, listing contingent liabilities of about $52 million, according to the Law Society's website.
The Law Society offered to pay for Wirick's transgressions using its special compensation fund designed to compensate victims who lose money through a member lawyer's misappropriation. To do so, annual fees for the fund were raised from $250 to $600 for every lawyer in the province. To date, the fund has paid out more than $38 million to the scammed homeowners.