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Hellfire Club
24 February, 2010  
Unlikely to reoffend

Sentencing of former Chatswood solicitor Christopher Fitzsimons … Manic gambler chomped through trust account money … Custodial policy for fraudulent solicitor with bi-polar disorder and alcohol dependence … Samantha Bowers reports

imageHeaps of worthies from Sydney’s North Shore keep pressing for information about the fate of former Chatswood sole trader Christopher Fitzsimons (snap).

The news is not bright. Chris, 64, is doing a minimum of nine month’s porridge for helping himself to more than $700,000 of trust monies between 2001 and 2006.

Mind you, he did have to feed a demanding gambling addiction.

Judge Helen Syme sentenced him last December in the Dizzo, but the transcript has only just been released.

Fitzsimons pleaded guilty last year to eight charges of fraudulently misappropriating funds (maximum seven years) and three of use false instrument (maximum 10 years).

Of course, it was all down to the booze and bi-polarism.

The Crown tried to ramp-up the sentence by saying that the offences were part of an organised criminal activity and committed for financial gain.

Judge Helen Syme was having none of that.

She helpfully pointed out that cases involving the misappropriation of funds by their very nature were likely to be motivated by financial gain, and that Fitzsimons’ acts were quite simple and his attempts at cover-up “amateur”.

The losses might be substantial taken together, but in the scheme of things there wasn’t enough money at stake to warrant a heavier stint in chokey.

The judge was convinced that Fitz’s alcohol and gambling problems were matters that she could take into account as part of the objective seriousness of the offences.

The nub of of the psychiatric evidence was:

“The manic behaviour which brought about the gambling problem is a behaviour that on balance can be found to be as a result of a manic phase that he was within at the time.”

Having a mental condition would also make prison time harder on him than your average solicitor.

The judge therefore did not give much weight to the element of general deterrence in her sentencing considerations.

Criminally inclined solicitors with mental issues can relax somewhat.

Mind you, Fitz was regarded as a “very good candidate for rehabilitation”.

On top of this, Fitzsimons had helped with the Crown’s case, admitted guilt from the outset and had good prospects of not reoffending (unsurprising, considering that without a practising certificate he’ll have a much harder time getting hold of clients’ trust funds).

He had also shown true remorse.

Actions speak louder than words and Syme was impressed that the family had sold off pretty much everything it could to repay the debts in full.

All that remained unpaid at the time of sentencing was $260,000, but arrangements were in hand to come up with the money.

A custodial term was clearly necessary – and, to his credit Fitzsimons never suggested otherwise – but HH felt a more favourable non-parole to parole ratio was justified by Fitzsimons’ circumstances, particularly given that he’d already suffered significant extra-curial punishment by losing his future livelihood and all his assets.

The offences were in the mid-range of naughtiness.

Nine months on the bottom. Twenty-one on the top.

It’s been a long journey.

Fitzsimons was suspended from practice in 2005. Between 2001 and 2005 he had placed bets totalling around $14 million.

Between 2003 and 2006 he had wagered almost $4 million on a credit gambling scheme.

The TAB helped him along by installing computers in his house and holiday home. It also allowed him to bet more than $3 million while his account was in overdraft.

In 2008, Fitzsimons sued the TAB and Tabcorp Holdings claiming they fed his addiction by approving a $5,000 a week credit facility on the strength of his daughter’s credit card as security.

Justice Robert McDougall wasn’t moved and dismissed the proceedings.

In June 2006 Alex Mitchell in The Sun-Herald reported that Fitz was “living it up at Star City casino with his solicitor wife Marie”.

Bob Stitt for the Law Society told the Supreme Court that the Fitzsimonses had the use of a $400 a night apartment at the Ultimo casino, where the receptionist seems to have been adept at throwing process servers off the scent.