A self-styled lawyer has been sentenced to a total of 14 years for a series of frauds against clients whom he tricked into thinking he was a bona fide legal professional.
Giovanni di Stefano, 57, who became known as the devil’s advocate for taking on “unwinnable” cases, was convicted on 25 charges including deception, fraud and money laundering between 2001 and 2011 at Southwark crown court, south London, on Wednesday.
On Thursday he pleaded guilty to another two counts of fraud and a further three counts were kept on file.
Judge Alistair McCreath, the recorder of Westminster, noted there were many offences over long periods of time.
The fact that the victims, who included a disabled man seeking damages for the loss of an arm, were all “desperate and vulnerable” and suffered not just financial losses but also the “raising and dashing of false hope”, was an aggravating factor, the judge said.
Di Stefano conned clients out of millions of pounds by setting himself up as a lawyer when he had no legal qualifications and was not registered to work as a lawyer in Italy or the UK.
He used the Italian word avvocato on business cards, letterheads and identification documents to give clients – and the judiciary – the impression he was an advocate.
In a loud voice Di Stefano told the judge: “I am obliged, my lord,” as he stepped out of the dock.
The judge told Di Stefano: “I recognise that you did not actively seek out those whom you defrauded. They came to you. You did not approach them but there is more than one kind of predator. Some predators hunt down their victims, others lie in wait for them. Your victims in this case were all desperate people and people who, because of their desperation, were vulnerable.”
The judge also noted that, while this case is about money, “it is also about something different and great – it is about the real distress you caused to so many people”.
“You had no regard for them nor for their anguish,” he said. “Your only concern was to line your own pockets.”
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