British Columbia

B.C. lawyer suspended over $25 million in offshore transactions

Donald Gurney, 74, saw millions flow through his trust account on behalf of clients in 2013.

Donald Gurney, 74, saw millions flow through his trust account on behalf of clients in 2013

The Law Society of B.C. has suspended a West Vancouver lawyer for six months after he moved millions in offshore money using his own trust account. (Law Society of B.C.)

A B.C. lawyer with nearly 50 years experience has been suspended for six months after allowing more than $25 million in offshore money into Canada through his own trust account.

Donald Gurney, 74, received and disbursed the money on behalf of several clients over a six-month period in 2013, without providing any legal services related to that cash.

A decision from the Law Society of B.C. said he failed to ask the clients where the cash was coming from, who the lenders were or why the clients were using the money in the first place — all "red flags" he should have addressed.

In processing the transactions, the West Vancouver lawyer "breached his duty as gatekeeper of his trust account" and posed a "serious risk" to the public interest, according to the society's panel.

"Given the fact that a lawyer's trust account is subject to solicitor-client privilege, a lawyer has an obligation to ensure that it is not misused," read the ruling posted last week. 

All in all, $25,845,489.87 was disbursed. Clients paid Gurney a total of $25,845 as a "service charge" for the transactions.

'Should have known better,' society says

Gurney responded to the initial allegations by saying he didn't break any society rules, only admitting that he was wrong in failing to ask about the source of the cash. He issued a statement saying the disciplinary move was an "unfair, abusive" attempt to ruin his reputation.

The society said that statement was only an effort to repair his image.

Gurney, who was called to the bar in 1968, said he didn't think to ask for more information about the cash, because money laundering schemes weren't a prominent risk in the early decades of his career, so he wasn't as suspicious as he should've been.

The panel didn't buy it, saying that his experience should have made him more wary.

"To put it simply," the decision said, "[Gurney] should have known better."

Gurney was found guilty of professional misconduct in 2016. Last week, he was ordered to pay $25,845 to the society — giving up the fee he received — and begin the six-month suspension on Nov. 1.

In earlier hearings, it was noted that such a suspension could, essentially, end the lawyer's career due to his age. Should he choose to return to law in 2018, the society said Gurney would be subject to various conditions. 

Gurney's lawyer said his client had no comment on the decision when reached by CBC News on Friday.