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Cape Town - A former Legal Aid Board attorney, who pretended that his clients were unemployed and qualified for legal representation at taxpayers’ expense, has lost a bid to appeal against his fraud conviction.
In addition, Marco Thomas could be hauled before a Cape Law Society disciplinary committee after the two Western Cape High Court judges who confirmed his conviction ordered the registrar of the court to send a copy to the society.
Thomas worked for the Legal Aid Board as a public defender in the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in Bellville.
The fraud relates to incidences in 2008 and 2009, when he pretended to the board and the regional court that his clients were indigent and therefore qualified for legal aid in terms of the board’s means test.
According to the evidence, Thomas was authorised to make decisions on whether people qualified for legal aid, and to then immediately go on record as the person’s attorney.
He was aware of the board’s policies and how the means test was applied.
However, the court heard that Thomas filled out forms on behalf of clients, indicating that they were unemployed and did not earn an income.
He arranged for clients to make false affidavits indicating they were unemployed, and later accepted payment from them.
His crime was uncovered by chance when one of the clients happened to mention it to a police officer who gave him a lift to a bus stop.
The police officer told the client that Thomas’s conduct was inappropriate, and said she would discuss the matter with her superiors.
An undercover operation, involving the client, was arranged, and police pounced after the client handed Thomas R3 000.
The court heard that Thomas tried to resist and screamed for help, denying that the client had given him any money.
The money was eventually found under a pile of papers.
In a recent judgment, Judge Ashton Schippers said: “Fraud is the unlawful and intentional making of a misrepresentation which causes actual prejudice or is potentially prejudicial to another.”
He was satisfied that Thomas had been correctly convicted.
Thomas had already served one year and six months of his sentence before the remaining 18 months was remitted because of a presidential amnesty. During that time, he scrubbed floors and cleaned toilets at a 24-hour nursing facility for quadriplegics, worked in the garden and transported residents to and from hospital.
He still volunteers at the facility.
The Department of Correctional Services also conducted more than 150 random checks on Thomas during that period.
Judge Schippers said that direct imprisonment was warranted in the case because of the seriousness of the crimes, and the circumstances in which Thomas had committed them.
However, the judge added that he considered there were exceptional circumstances that occurred after sentence was imposed, which included that the sentence appeared to have had the desired effect.
It was also likely that Thomas would be subjected to disciplinary proceedings by the law society.
Judge Schippers confirmed the sentence imposed. Judge Pat Gamble agreed.