Three Brisbane solicitors have testified that Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) has granted them immunity from criminal prosecution in return for assistance with its investigation of alleged illegal activities at a well-known former criminal law firm.
Criminal solicitors Cory Cullen, Nathan Hounsell and Mitchell Cunningham today told the Brisbane Magistrates Court they had all been charged with fraud during an 18-month CCC investigation into the now-defunct high-profile criminal law firm, Lawler Magill.
However, the trio, who now head up Hounsell Cunningham Criminal Defence Lawyers and Cullen Lawyers, testified the CCC granted them an indemnity from prosecution on one count each of fraud – charges which have since formally been dropped – in return for assistance in its investigation into alleged money laundering by the firm and others.
The evidence came during the first day of a committal hearing for former veteran police officer and now struck-off criminal lawyer Adam Raydon Magill, 49, and his firm’s former clients, Piet ‘Bruce’ Luan Ta and brother Lam ‘Chop’ Quoc Ta.
The trio are each charged with one count of money laundering between May 2013 and April, 2017, and aggravated fraud against Legal Aid Queensland (LAQ) between November 2013 and July 2016.
Magill is also charged with an additional count of fraud against LAQ between May and December 2015, aggravated fraud against his former firm between January 2011 and April 2017, and fraudulent falsification of records between August and November 2016.
During cross-examination by barrister Lincoln Crowley QC (for Magill), Cullen, Hounsell and Cunningham gave evidence that they had all been charged by the CCC with fraud over the alleged taking of cash payments from clients, but granted an indemnity from prosecution if they assisted with investigations into Magill and others.
The court was told Lawler Magill Lawyers regularly accepted cash from criminal law clients at numerous and varied locations, such as court, in social and informal settings, at the firm’s Brisbane office and after providing legal services.
When asked by Mr Crowley if he had ever received cash payments when returning to the firm with fees paid to him as a reward for “good work” or a “job well done”, Mr Cullen replied: “I did.”
Mr Cullen said that, before the CCC raided the Lawler Magill officers in April 2017, he had witnessed cash given by clients, families or associates for services provided being shared among the firm’s then partners, fellow practitioners and staff.
Mr Cullen said he was aware at the time of the CCC and police raid on the firm it was being investigated over allegations of fraud and money laundering and “in particular the handling of cash (received) from clients”.
Former Lawler Magill office manager Wendy Pond testified that, when she joined the firm then known as Bell Miller in January 2014, she had no qualifications in relation to the running of legal trust accounts and had never worked for a law firm.
She said the firm had no formal policies, that she was aware of, or training on how to manage the firm’s trust account other than a “one-hour handover” from a former office manager and a half-day training course at Queensland Law Society.
“There was nothing written down. I had to work it out myself,” she said.
Ms Pond said she first became aware of concerns about the running of the firm’s trust account after an audit by Queensland Law Society in 2014 and when named partner Neil Lawler started questioning whether client money was being placed in the firm’s trust account.
Under questioning by Mr Crowley, Ms Pond also agreed that as much as “20 to 25 percent” of clients paid in cash, with Magill being the major recipient.
“It was rarely Neil (Lawler). It was more Adam that brought me cash to deposit,” she said.
Ms Pond said Magill and Lawler had long shared an equal role in the running of the business, but the relationship became “fractious” when Magill asserted Lawler was not “pulling his weight” and “drinking too much”.
“Neil’s drinking was definitely having a detrimental effect on the firm,” she said.
The court was told Neil Lawler was scheduled to testify when the hearing resumes before Deputy Chief Magistrate Janelle Brassington at 9.30am tomorrow, Thursday 15 July.