EXCLUSIVE: A highly experienced lawyer from Sydney’s ritzy eastern suburbs as well as his wife are at the centre of a $6 million fraud case with Edgecliff solicitor, Mark O’Brien, this month admitting to swindling millions of dollars from the trust accounts of clients so the couple could buy a new house in Bondi. Serkan Ozturk reports.
A graduate of the University of Sydney and vice-captain of Waverley College, Mark O’Brien had been a partner at Harrington Maguire & O’Brien for almost 35 years.
A small law firm in Edgecliff in Sydney’s east, O’Brien had been with the general practice since 1985. The firm had been founded just a decade prior in 1974.
Having graduated university with a degree in Economics and Law, O’Brien commenced his legal career with Abbott Tout. He worked there for three years as a litigator until early 1983.
For two years after that he was employed with insurance company GIO’s third party practice where he was responsible for major claims such as for brain damage, severe burns and disabilities.
Since joining Harrington Maguire & O’Brien in 1985, he is said to have “accumulated experience in a wide range of work for corporate, professional and personal clients”.
Among his legal duties, O’Brien professed to be well experienced across “conveyancing, real estate subdivision, property leasing, wills, estates, incorporations, business transactions, litigation of all types and legal drafting”.
Admitted misappropriating millions from clients so he and his wife could buy a new house near the beach at Bondi: Lawyer Mark O’Brien (Image: LinkedIn / Supplied)
On his law firm’s website, O’Brien claims that “he enjoys the relationships he has developed with his clients and views regular and effective communication with them as a key to optimal results in all legal work”.
On his LinkedIn account, O’Brien further claims he takes “particular pride in the fact that we deal personally with every aspect of every matter in which I am involved (no matter how large or small), and thus am able to talk to my clients at any time and provide them with prompt service and current information as to the state of their matter”.
He then goes on to state:
“This personal involvement also allows me to act as an ‘early warning system’ in regard to new developments in matters (be they good or ill) and to recommend appropriate actions to respond to those developments.”
But it seems that any “early warning system” O’Brien had in place to prevent himself from pilfering his clients money for his own needs was damaged and irrevocably broken, or at least severely malfunctioning for a lengthy period of time.
A fortnight ago, the Law Society commenced urgent action against O’Brien and his wife, Therese O’Brien, after it came to light the pair had knowingly misappropriated at least $5.9 million from the trust accounts of clients of O’Brien’s law firm.
The fraud only came to the attention of authorities after John Maguire – O’Brien’s partner at Harrington Maguire & O’Brien and the founder of the firm – began to wonder how his colleague could afford such an expensive new home in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
As principal of the firm Mr Maguire was obviously privy to the general financial performance of the business and he was at a loss to how his partner could buy a new home near the beach in Bondi.
Mr Maguire then began preparing a comprehensive report for the Law Society about his suspicions. However, O’Brien approached the Law Society to make several admissions about his fraudulent activities before his longtime colleague and friend had completed his investigation.
On Thursday, April 4 in a Supreme Court hearing in front of Justice Stephen Campbell, it was agreed that when first confronted with his misdeeds O’Brien “obfuscated and maintained that obfuscation for a period of time until it must have become obvious to him that he could no longer continue to deny his law partner’s suspicions”.
The Law Society went to the NSW Supreme Court to freeze the assets of lawyer Mark O’Brien and his wife, Therese O’Brien (Image: Supplied)
The Law Society has successfully sought freezing orders on the assets of both O’Brien and his wife, who is alleged to have “knowledge of some of the misappropriations”.
The expensive house the O’Briens purchased in beach-side Bondi will now be sold by “reputable real estate agents” in a bid to help recoup the stolen funds.
However, according to the court there are real fears that O’Brien and his wife may be hiding “other bank accounts and other assets which have not yet been disclosed”.
So far, the multi-million dollar fraud officially remains only a civil case, not a criminal one. But criminal charges are likely to be in the offing.
John Maguire: Lawyer and friend was first to notice something was amiss (Image: HMO / Supplied)
When contacted by True Crime News Weekly, a spokesperson for NSW Police said they had so far received no complaints regarding the fraudulent activities of O’Brien and his wife.
“It appears to be civil proceedings only at this time,” a spokesperson said.
When approached, the Law Society said they were unable to provide a comment about the case and what punishments they may be seeking against O’Brien and his wife.
“Under the provisions of the Legal Profession Uniform Law, the Law Society is unable to make comment on individual cases or solicitors,” the spokesperson said.
True Crime News Weekly left O’Brien numerous messages by email, text message and voice message seeking comment for this story. The disgraced lawyer did not respond.
Mark and Therese O’Brien: United in fraud (Image: Facebook / Supplied)
His longtime legal colleague and the person responsible for his downfall however did get in touch with us.
Harrington Maguire & O’Brien principal lawyer, John Maguire, told True Crime News Weekly he was now no longer in business with O’Brien.
“Until recently I was in practice in partnership with Mr O’Brien. That partnership is now terminated,” Mr Maguire said.
“For reasons which I am sure you will well understand, I am unable to make any comment on any allegations which have been or may be made against Mr O’Brien.
“I can say that I am aware of the fact that he is subject to investigation by both the Law Society and the New South Wales Police.”
O’Brien’s practicing certificate as a lawyer has been suspended.