Vancouver lawyer who let client use his trust account for $1.17M fraud has licence suspended
Milan Uzelac admits to misconduct after turning 'blind eye' to friend's scheme, law society says
A lawyer who let a family friend use his trust account to defraud a Vancouver mother of $1.17 million has had his licence suspended for four months.
Milan Matt Uzelac has admitted to professional misconduct after he "turned a blind eye" to an investment scam perpetrated by his client and friend, according to a Dec. 3 disciplinary decision from the Law Society of B.C.
"When a lawyer, whether knowingly or by being wilfully blind, permits a fraudster to use the lawyer's trust account to perpetuate fraudulent schemes, that lawyer erodes the public confidence in the administration of justice," the decision says.
Besides his suspension, Uzelac has also been ordered to pay the law society $1,000 in costs.
The decision refers to Uzelac's client by his initials, AN, but documents filed in B.C. Supreme Court show he is a Vancouver businessman named Anand Nagin.
According to the law society, Nagin was previously employed by Corporate House, which was the Canadian representative of Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm at the centre of the Panama Papers leak over offshore investing.
Nagin's scheme and Uzelac's misconduct are laid out in detail in the law society's decision, as well as in documents related to lawsuits filed against both of them by Ping Wang, the woman who was duped. Both suits were settled out of court.
These records show how Nagin convinced Wang to provide him with bank drafts totalling $1.17 million over eight months in 2017 and 2018, on the understanding the money would be invested in an account with RBC Barbados where it would earn six per cent interest. All the bank drafts were made out to "Milan Uzelac Law Offices in Trust," according to the law society.
Wang discovered she had been scammed in July 2018, when she reached out to RBC Barbados and learned there was no account in her name, the documents show. She hired a lawyer and called the police.
The Vancouver Police Department's financial crime unit says their investigation into the case is still open and active.
'Several red flags' for fraud
In a 2019 interview with investigators, Uzelac "admitted that he did not ask [Nagin] anything about the source of [Nagin]'s deposits or why he was being asked to write a cheque payable to [Nagin] at the same time [Nagin] was making deposits," the law society decision says.
Uzelac, a practising lawyer for 42 years, has been friends with Nagin's father for decades and has known Nagin since he was just nine years old, according to the law society decision.
During the course of that relationship, Uzelac should have noticed "several red flags" about the potential for fraud, the law society says.
That includes a lawsuit claiming Nagin had solicited investments for a non-existent gas project in Alberta and allegations of fabricated documents in an unrelated tax case.
Uzelac even had firsthand experience of this, according to the law society.
In 2011, he filed a third party notice against Nagin over an immigration case where Nagin had allegedly accepted payment to do immigration work for a client of Uzelac's firm, but didn't file the necessary papers and then misled the client for two years.
During his 2019 interview with the law society, Uzelac was asked whether the immigration case left him with any concerns about Nagin's honesty. According to the decision, he replied, "I think I just let it go and turned the other cheek. Let's put it that way, okay?"
Nagin jailed for contempt of court
In her notices of claim against Nagin and Uzelac, Wang describes herself as the mother of a "very disabled" son, and says she met Nagin and his wife Prudence through her child's school.
Even before Nagin pitched her on the phoney investment, the documents show he offered to connect Wang with a specialist in the U.S. who could help with her son's medical issues. She paid Nagin a fee of $5,200 and began corresponding with someone she believed to be Dr. David Franz at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital.
After Wang discovered she had been duped about the investment in Barbados, she asked a friend to look into the IP address for "Dr. Franz's" emails, and learned they were coming from Nagin's home, according to the law society.
In 2018, Wang settled her lawsuit against Nagin and his wife when they agreed to pay her more than $1.5 million, according to court documents. Nagin was jailed for 14 days for contempt of court when the couple resisted efforts to collect on the full amount.
Since then, the matter has been settled, but Wang told the law society she was unable to disclose the terms.
As for Uzelac, he already had a long disciplinary history with the law society before this matter, including two previous admissions of professional misconduct.
Wang filed suit against him last year, alleging a range of offences including breach of trust, unjust enrichment and negligence. The case was scheduled to go to trial in April, but it was settled by consent order in July 2019.