Lawyer stole $495,000 from dead B.C. client's estate
Bethany Lindsay, ctvbc.ca
Published Monday, December 6, 2010 7:39PM PST
A former B.C. lawyer has been convicted of stealing almost half of a dead client's $1-million estate to pay for the development of a mountainside community that never came to be.
Marvin Kenneth Singleton, a 77-year-old who once practiced law in Nelson, stole $494,633 when he was executor of John Alexander George's will by re-directing the funds to a private company set up in his name.
George's estate was worth an estimated $1,061,648 when he died in 1988, and the stolen money was intended for bequests to charities and the Kootenay Lake Hospital.
Singleton was convicted of theft and fraud for his efforts to conceal that theft in B.C. Supreme Court on Friday.
"Mr. Singleton, as a highly intelligent man educated in both law and letters, and one with a heightened appreciation of the tensions between equity and the common law, simply gave into the venal urge to engage in activities of interest to him with money within his sole control but belonging to others," Justice Elizabeth Arnold-Bailey wrote in her decision.
Singleton, described in court documents as "a highly educated and intelligent individual who is somewhat eccentric," funnelled the stolen money into a company he called 433 Winchester Management Corporation. He was the only shareholder, officer and director.
He used the company to buy a plot of land in a forested mountain area just outside of Nelson, envisioning it as the future home of a residential development marketed to winter sports enthusiasts and featuring ponds full of wild rice.
He also used money stolen from the estate of another client, Haroldine Copp, to fund development of the property.
But the development struggled to get off the ground, and Singleton lost interest. By the end of 1993, the property went into forfeiture for non-payment of property taxes.
In the meantime, complaints from clients and several reviews by the Law Society of B.C. had led Singleton to voluntarily withdraw from practicing law in 1990.
He turned his attention to writing and other personal hobbies, and deflected any questions about the promised bequests from the George estate. Civil lawsuits concerning the Copp and George estates were filed against Singleton, and the Law Society eventually was forced to compensate the estates' beneficiaries using an emergency fund.
Singleton left Canada in 1993 to live in the U.S. He was arrested in 2004, and stayed in a Kansas prison until he was extradited two years later.
Charges of theft and fraud in relation to the Copp estate were stayed against Singleton in 2009.
Singleton is scheduled to appear in court again next month for a psychiatric assessment.