A Law Society of Ontario tribunal has found a real estate lawyer committed professional misconduct by misappropriating more than $1 million.
In Law Society of Upper Canada v. Piersanti, the tribunal relied on court decisions that determined lawyer Christian Piersanti had misappropriated the funds from a paving company with which he was involved.
The law society leaned on a trial decision and an appellate ruling that found Piersanti had committed fraud against the plaintiffs. In that matter, Alfano v. Piersanti, the courts found that Piersanti had acted on behalf of four brothers when they incorporated a paving company — Osler Paving Company — in 1993.
The Alfanos made him president of the company and gave him a 10-per-cent ownership interest.
He then acted for them to establish four family trusts, each with a 22.5-per-cent interest in the company, according to court decisions.
When one of the brothers withdrew from the company in 1997, the three remaining trusts each held 29 per cent and he held the remaining 13 per cent of shares.
In 2002, Piersanti claimed he owned the company after the relationship between the lawyer and the plaintiffs started to sour. He then listed Osler’s property for sale and assigned the company to bankruptcy, according to the court decisions.
Litigation ensued and after a trial, a judge awarded $250,000 in punitive damages to the Alfanos for “compensation for the fraud perpetrated on them” by Piersanti.
The judge determined Piersanti had fabricated a fraudulent shareholders’ agreement, improperly assigned the company into bankruptcy and had listed the property without informing the Alfanos. The judge also found that he had misappropriated more than $1 million from the company.
Piersanti disputed these findings in an appeal, but the Court of Appeal upheld them, determining that the lawyer had taken advantage of his position as the Alfanos’ lawyer.
The lawyer had argued that there was insufficient evidence to find liability against him for damages arising from the company’s bankruptcy, but the Court of Appeal disagreed.
“In my view, there was a strong case that Mr. Piersanti assigned Osler into bankruptcy as part of a fraudulent scheme to deprive the Alfano trusts of their interests in Osler,” wrote then-associate chief justice of Ontario, Dennis O’Connor.
The Court of Appeal also upheld the $250,000 in punitive damages.
He then sought leave to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, but his application was dismissed.
The law society brought what’s called a CUPE Motion under the tribunal’s rules, which would allow the regulator to depend on the courts’ findings of fact rather than re-litigating the issues.
The tribunal granted the order and Piersanti unsuccessfully tried to appeal it to the Appeal Division of the Law Society Tribunal and the Divisional Court.
He then filed a motion to vary or set aside the Divisional Court’s decision to quash his appeal and requested an adjournment of the law society’s conduct hearing until that motion was heard. The tribunal, however, declined to provide an adjournment.
Read the full story at the Law Times.
This story was summarized by Canadian Fraud News Inc.