Cape Town – An attorney has been jailed for eight years after he was convicted for defrauding clients out of Road Accident Fund (RAF) payments amounting to over R6 million.
Eslin Meyer, 63, the owner of Eslin Meyer Attorneys, with offices in Mitchells Plain and Gordon’s Bay, representing clients in RAF matters and administration of deceased estates, was sentenced at the Bellville Specialised Crime Court earlier this week.
National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said the conviction followed a lengthy trial where Meyer faced charges of theft and failure to keep proper accounting records of funds received by an attorney in trust accounts.
“He operated three trust accounts and two business accounts. His clients made claims against the RAF, filled in forms supplied to them by Meyer and submitted them with all the necessary supporting documents.
“After administering the claims, the RAF would make payments into the trust accounts in favour of the claimants,” said Ntabazalila.
Advocate Tommy Bunguzana told the court that as at November 23, 2013, a total of 61 claims had been submitted to the Fidelity Fund against funds held by Meyer. The Fidelity Fund had paid R6.44m to claimants who were defrauded by Meyer.
“A Fidelity Fund is a fund set up to compensate members of the public who have suffered pecuniary loss as a result of the theft of trust money that was entrusted to an attorney in the ordinary course of his practice. The Fidelity Fund is funded by interest on the trust funds held in the attorney’s trust account.
“In embezzling the funds, Meyer presented false payment invoices to his clients whereby he paid over only a certain portion of the funds and retained the balance for himself.
“In some instances, he would retain the full RAF payments and disbursed the money without telling his clients of successful claims and receipts of proceeds,” said Ntabazalila.
Information emerged in court that several of Meyer’s clients suffered financially, including Nombulelo Sokam who received a claim of R1.134m but only got R402 413 after Meyer transferred R732 354 to his personal bank account.
“Suleiman Christians did not receive a cent of his R373 365 RAF claim. Between July 2006 and February 2007, R1.18m was paid into (Meyer’s) law firm’s trust account. He used the money for personal and business expenses,” said Ntabazalila.
Bunguzana argued that Meyer perpetrated the offence with impunity over a lengthy period of time. “The accused did not take the court into his confidence and explain why he committed this offence, instead he has maintained his innocence despite the mountain of evidence against him. His motivation for this offence was pure greed and self-interest. The first factor makes this case more serious than the run-of-the-mill white-collar crime, it is Meyer’s contemptuous disregard for the dire consequences of his scheme on innocent people,” argued Bunguzana.
Ntabazalila said the NPA welcomed the sentence.
RAF spokesperson William Maphutha said: “We welcome the judgment and hope it sends a clear message to those who prey on vulnerable claimants. We also want to encourage our claimants to report every suspicious activity by any of the lawyers at their service, to either the LPC or the police. ”