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Toronto lawyer facing fraud charges stripped of his licence Add to ...

A Toronto lawyer facing fraud and theft charges has been stripped of his licence after the Law Society of Upper Canada concluded he misappropriated more than $3-million of his clients’ money, most of it belonging to a charitable foundation with long-standing links to the Toronto Rotary Club.

Over 2 1/2 years, the society said, Michael Ingram siphoned cash from trust funds he controlled and dispersed it to eight recipients, including his wife and his brother.

In all, there were more than 130 allegedly unauthorized transfers.

“The conduct in this case is egregious,” said the LSUC, the body that oversees the province’s lawyers.

“Over $3-million in trust funds were misapplied and over $2-million remains unpaid. ... The fact that over $2-million was taken from a charitable foundation is of particular concern.”

Police say the cash was funnelled to the United States, Canada, Bermuda and Switzerland, possibly beyond, and where the money trail ends remains guesswork.

One of the clients was a charity. Although the law society does not name it in the ruling, it was the defunct Laughlen Centre, a long-term-care facility for seniors that the City of Toronto bought in 2006 for $8-million.

Mr. Ingram, 69, was charged in July of this year with theft over $5,000 and fraud over $5,000 and has a court appearance set for next month.

He has declined comment, and a message left on Friday with the lawyer who represented him at the LSUC disciplinary hearing, Nadia Liva, was not immediately returned.

The society found it “troubling” that Mr. Ingram did not attend the hearing.

Of the $8-million the city paid for the centre, about one-third was to have gone to the centre, which, until it ceased operations in 2004, was home to more than 200 residents.

The balance covered outstanding debts and mortgages.

Mr. Ingram, a former partner with the downtown law firm Coutts Crane Ingram, had been the charity’s lawyer and had headed its board of directors.

In 2008, he was fired by Coutts Crane, to which he had belonged for 38 years, after the discrepancies came to light.

Coutts Crane also reported him to the law society, and in July of that year, Mr. Ingram agreed to cease practising law.

On learning its share of the funds was missing, the Laughlen Centre’s board members in August, 2010, launched a lawsuit against Mr. Ingram, four of his former colleagues at Coutts Crane and three associates, seeking more than $2.5-million in lost funds, plus $1-million in punitive damages.

The suit accused the law firm of failing to supervise Mr. Ingram adequately and thereby being “vicariously liable” for the alleged theft.

The defendants denied that.

“CCI had reasonable safeguards in place to protect the funds in its trust account, which Ingram unilaterally and surreptitiously circumvented,” their statement of defence read.

The defendants agreed to settle the suit for $1.5-million.

And because the Laughlen Centre had by then ceased to exist except as a legal entity, the money was paid via a liquidation firm to the Rotary Club, a greatly respected secular organization that had for years helped administer the centre and provide financial support.

For the same reason, the Rotary Club is named in the criminal investigation as the chief victim of Mr. Ingram’s alleged theft, along with at least two smaller, unspecified charities.

The law society found that during the period spanning October, 2005, to May, 2008, Mr. Ingram shuffled the money between different trust accounts, and disbursed it to a range of beneficiaries, including overseas law firms, and at least one religious organization, The Glorious Praise Ministries.

As well, his brother received more than $100,000 to assist in a real estate venture, the law society wrote.

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