By Michael MacLeod
A DISGRACED former lawyer who took almost half-a-million pounds from a dead pensioner’s will used the cash to pay off his own debts.
Michael Karus, 48, embezzled £413,052.81 while acting as the executor of the estate of the late Edith Hampton, who died aged 89 in 2003.
It emerged yesterday in court that he used the former teacher’s cash to settle debts in his own law and property firms and even paid off a personal credit card debt.
It was originally thought that the Cancer Research charity was entitled to the huge sum left in Miss Hampton’s will.
But it was only when the charity began to investigate that it emerged she had drawn up a second will for the money to be given to a friend, which Karus claims he knew nothing about.
He was arrested in March last year and yesterday (Mon) announced at Edinburgh Sheriff Court that he paid the Crown £500,000 to be given to the genuine beneficiary – a Mrs June Pirie of Edinburgh.
But the father of one, from Edinburgh’s New Town, must now wait a week to discover his fate, with Sheriff Kenneth McIntyre warning that he was considering a jail sentence.
Fiscal Depute Alison Smith said: “Miss Hampton was a single lady with no children who worked as a teacher throughout her life and lived in Edinburgh.
“She signed a will in September 1992 which left all the money to Cancer Research.
“Then in 1999 she left a will to June Pirie, her cousin’s daughter.
“When Mrs Hampton died in 2003, Michael Karus registered the 1992 will and signed a confirmation that there were no other wills.
“He did not contact Cancer Research and proceeded to transfer the money into accounts he had access to.”
These included a property company he was the director of, the Karus and Co. pension account and even a personal credit card in arrears.
Despite the fact he had channelled the cash into his own account, Karus met the intended beneficiary, Mrs Pirie, at Mrs Hampton’s funeral and said it had gone to charity.
Mrs Smith added: “Mrs Pirie had no idea of the will left in her favour.
“She met the accused at Miss Hampton’s funeral and he told her some of the will had been left to charity.”
It wasn’t until 2007 when Cancer Research workers were investigating that they discovered they weren’t in fact the beneficiaries, as there was a second will leaving the cash for Mrs Pirie.
Police were contacted and Karus was arrested, originally refusing to comment during interview.
Defence QC Ian Duguid stated yesterday that Karus did not know about the second will until it was too late.
He said: “The first will was registered by him in 1992 as the sole executor in good faith.
“Mrs Pirie has not received any of the inheritance but she will be reimbursed in the fullness of time, along with around £80,000 to account for interest. The money has been paid to the Crown.
“So as much as she has been out of pocket for a number of years, she will be reimbursed.
“The decision today is whether he requires to be sent to prison, and the embezzlement in a position of trust is a serious matter.
“He is of no significant concern and is not assessed as someone about to commit a crime.”
Sheriff McIntyre commented: “I have to ask myself, if none of this had come to light then the money would have disappeared.”
Mr Duguid QC said: “He was able to use the money for his own personal benefit for some period of time.
“But he realised it was not as if he was never going to be found out.”
Karus, who was suspended by the Law Society in 2001 for “financial irregularities” will be sentenced next Monday.