Before anyone gets angry about the headline I have chosen, I am simply reflecting what a commenter on a Rangers fan message board yesterday suggested the coverage would be.
Of Mr Di Stefano’s claims to fame, his involvement with Rangers, whilst being most recent, is almost certainly his most trivial.
The heading could have been “Ex-Dundee Director Jailed” or “The ‘Lawyer’ for Saddam, Milosevic and Arkan Convicted”.
I am sure his life story, if ever written and told accurately, would tell a remarkable tale. He indeed promises a free e-book to be published imminently detailing his trial and his life over the last ten years.
There can be no doubt at all that he is a perfect example of hiding in plain sight.
Indeed he has been voluble even since the conviction and sentence.
He released a statement following the verdict saying:-
In a democratic society we must accept the verdict because although the criminal justice system is not the best and probably not the fairest – It is all we have.
We must accept the system and accept any verdict no matter how much it can be contested.
We must also accept the verdict not as a final result or even whether one is guilty or innocent but as an indication and prospective of a better and fairer system to come.
The real Judge and Jury will be history not people.
This was followed by a Tweet from his account last night:-
If I was a thief, Id (sic)have stolen much much more than 1mil when more than 20 went via my control #thinkpeople #itsnotwhatitseems #neverbeaten
So what did Mr Di Stefano do to receive such a sentence?
The City of London Police issued a statement yesterday, which I reproduce below.
A self-styled ‘lawyer’ who built notoriety, fame and the nickname ‘the Devil’s Advocate’ for the type of cases he took on has today been jailed for 14 years for a catalogue of crimes including deception, fraud and money laundering following a long running City of London Police investigation.
Giovanni Di Stefano had no legal qualifications yet had developed a reputation among both the criminal underworld and with some lawyers in the legal community as a man who was willing to provide services to clients whose cases were otherwise considered too difficult to win or defend.
Yet Italian-born Di Stefano was not registered as a bona fide lawyer in either Britain or Italy, despite using the word ‘avvocato’ to suggest that he was the equivalent of a lawyer and operating under the company name Studio Legal Internazionale, which translates as ‘International Law Firm’.
According to the Law Society, Di Stefano was not listed as either a registered European or foreign lawyer and neither was he registered in the Ordine degli Avvocati in Rome.
Di Stefano, aged 57, from Marshside, Canterbury, but who had previously lived in both London and Rome, came to the attention of specialist fraud detectives at The City of London Police in 2005 after the Law Society passed on a financial misappropriation complaint made by a client he had engaged.
A painstaking seven year inquiry followed that resulted in the City of London Police amassing more than 175 witness statements, 15 lever arch files of material and more than 6,500 pages of exhibits.
It was uncovered that Di Stefano had consistently manipulated and deceived the criminal justice system in this country.
Di Stefano was arrested in Spain using a European Arrest Warrant and brought back to the UK for trial at Southwark Crown Court, where he denied a total of 25 charges – including obtaining a money transfer by deception, fraud, money laundering through acquiring criminal property and using criminal property, using a false instrument (a record and letter), attempting to obtain a money transfer by deception and obtaining property by deception.
Di Stefano denied the charges but the jury unanimously returned guilty verdicts on all 25 counts against him after four hours of deliberation.
The court was told during the trial that there were 10 victims or sets of victims who among them, between June 2004 and December 2011 lost nearly £1 million.
Some who lost money to Di Stefano were people who had been convicted of criminal offences, but more often it was their family members who were asked to pay his demands.
Di Stefano also subsequently pleaded guilty to two further charges of fraud, one in relation to Hertfordshire Police Authority and the appropriation of £150,000 in relation to an insurance claim by a man who sought compensation following a car crash in which he lost his arm.
He also tried to undermine the case by taking out a private case against the officer in charge of the case, which was thrown out of court.
After the case, Det Insp Matthew Bradford, from the fraud investigation team in the City of London Police Economic Crime Directorate, said: ‘This is a man who courted publicity, fame and even generated notoriety and respect for his legal services – but it was all built on his lies, deception and greed.
‘The irony is that among Di Stefano’s clients were individuals who were being prosecuted for serious criminal offences or had a criminal background – yet they themselves became victims to Di Stefano’s crimes.
‘This was a complex enquiry that took specialist investigators from the City of London Police years of dedicated work to meticulously piece together Di Stefano’s persistent habit of offending over a substantial period of time and establish a case which the prosecution were then able to successfully present in court to a jury. Not even Di Stefano could defend the weight of evidence against him.’
Det Insp Bradford added: ‘Di Stefano was convicted of serious fraud at the Old Bailey in 1986, at which point the then trial judge described him as one of “life’s great swindlers”. That is as true today as it was then.
It is not really necessary to add comment to a 14 year sentence for financial crimes like these, but Mr Di Stefano’s career justifies an exception being made.
My only personal involvement with him occurred when he picked up on and replied to a couple of tweets of mine about Rangers. In addition, I had been careful to delete references to him on my blog which were less than complimentary, simply because of his reputation as an extraordinarily litigious character.
He had a long-running battle with Private Eye, which repeatedly referred to Di Stefano’s prison sentence in 1986, also mentioned by Det Insp Bradford above.
In preparing this post, I came across an interview Mr Di Stefano gave to Peter Popham of the Independent in 2008.
The full piece is well worth reading.
Some parts of it are very note-worthy standing yesterday’s news.
Quick quiz: what two things do the following people have in common: Ian Brady, Harold Shipman, Jeremy Bamber, Nicholas van Hoogstraten and Saddam Hussein? Answer: whether alive or dead, they are all notoriously bad people. And all have been legally represented, or so we are told, by Giovanni di Stefano.
The rich and well-connected rarely end up in jail in Italy. In England, as he says, this is not the case. “Stonehouse did seven years. Aitken. Archer.” This happens, he says, when “the Establishment has made you an objective. I’ve been an objective. I probably still am an objective.”
I predict that Mr Di Stefano will be claiming imminently that he is “an objective”.
Di Stefano has also spent some considerable time in jail, as I feel obliged to remind him. He was convicted of fraud on 18 March 1986 following a 78-day trial at the Old Bailey.
Sentencing him to five years in jail, Judge Anthony Lewisohn described him as “one of nature’s fraudsters… a swindler without scruple or conscience.” “No. That’s not correct,” he snaps. “It’s not true. I did nine months at HMP Norwich. Only to be acquitted. Only to be acquitted and vindicated and to receive a substantial amount of money in compensation as well.”
This is very much in line with his Wikipedia entry, which states, “…Di Stefano was convicted after a 78-day trial and was jailed for five years though the BBC reports that Di Stefano has stated that this was then quashed on the second appeal but that ‘a sense of injustice remains, making each victory against the system a sweet revenge.’ The charges were for conspiracy to obtain property by deception and fraudulent trading.”
I feel disturbed: there is deep confusion in what he’s saying. On the one hand he is going after Wikipedia because it’s anonymous, and that’s a question of principle; but then in the same breath he brings in Jim Cusack from the Irish publication the Sunday Independent, and it’s obvious from his malign tone that he is bitterly looking forward to Mr Cusack being banged up. And the same fate will be in store for me, he implies, if I am so reckless as to follow in Cusack’s footsteps.
I have never been threatened by an interviewee before. It’s an unpleasant sensation. But then I have never before interviewed someone who has been reported as saying he would represent Satan in court because “his side of the story has never really been heard”.
He goes on to outline his main political proposals, which include constructing huge prisons in north Africa for dumping illegal immigrants caught in Europe. He explains how he is the son of a “bloody peasant” who was taken to England aged six, as a result of which he is now rich and successful, “thanks to the English language”, and but for which he would have risen no higher than a porter. “Instead, you can go to any country in the world and they know who I am. Some welcome me, some tell me to fuck off, some I wouldn’t even want to go in the first place.”
“I’m more dangerous than anybody else,” he boasts, “because I have access to information. I also have money, and money buys you access to information and access to love. It doesn’t buy you love, but it buys you access to love.”
Giovanni di Stefano has a habit of being economical with the actualité, as I discover while rooting around in an online news archive.
Our interview had got off to a rocky start when I mentioned that he had spent years in jail. He angrily denied it, claiming the conviction was overturned on appeal. Yet that is false: in March 1986 he was sent to prison for five years for fraud, and banned for 10 years from being a company director, after trying to steal tens of thousands of pounds through cheques drawn on imaginary banks. On 27 January 1987 his appeal was dismissed. Lord Justice Stephen Brown concluded that Di Stefano’s trial “revealed a very deep and wide measure of fraudulent behaviour. This was a man who was undoubtedly seeking to operate a financial fraud wherever he was able to induce people to succumb to representations skilfully made in the form of bogus financial documents.”
On learning this, I make another appointment to see him – same beautiful club, same idyllic weather – and confront him with these ugly facts, which I say I will have to bring up in my piece. He says the court documents are forgeries, reminds me of journalists he claims to have sued, but points out that my position is more delicate than theirs. “You are the most vulnerable,” he says, referring to the fact that I live in Italy. “You could be arrested in flagrante…”
But unfortunately for him, the documents are not forgeries: Giovanni di Stefano, who at the time used the English form of his Christian name, John, did go to jail, and he did lose his appeal. When he came out in 1988 he went to work for a London solicitor as a solicitor’s clerk, but secretly removed more than £270,000 from his employer’s accounts. The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found that he “had perpetrated considerable fraud upon a great many people”. He was barred from future employment with a solicitor.
Even his most basic claims are unreliable, it turns out. During the 1986 fraud trial, the PhD he said he had gained at Cambridge was exposed as a lie. And in 2004, Geoffrey Negus, press and public relations officer of the Law Society, said, “Giovanni di Stefano is not a solicitor, or a registered foreign lawyer, or a registered European lawyer.” It’s the same story in Rome. The waiters at his club politely call him “Avvocato” (lawyer), but Italy’s national lawyers’ register has no knowledge of him. On their list of avvocati, “DI STEFANO, Gianni” is followed immediately by “DI STEFANO, Giuseppe”. Of “DI STEFANO, Giovanni” there is no trace.
Some of the press coverage suggested that the gaol sentence was simply for him pretending to be a lawyer. Whilst that would be treated seriously by any court, it would NOT be a cause for a Long sentence. As the police recorded, he was convicted unanimously of 25 charges – “including obtaining a money transfer by deception, fraud, money laundering through acquiring criminal property and using criminal property, using a false instrument (a record and letter), attempting to obtain a money transfer by deception and obtaining property by deception.”
And his tweet asking why would he steal £1 million when he had access to £20 million is the type of argument that comes from a client who is “done out of the park” or “bang to rights” and is looking for any possible excuse for their behaviour. “How can I be a thief as I could have stolen more” is not the defence you want to hear your client advance!
His “legal firm’s” website is no longer available on the Internet.
We cannot therefore read his full list of clients whose interest he claimed to represent. There is nothing wrong either, and indeed it is an essential part of a civilised legal system, with even the most notorious of wrong-doers having proper representation. Even with the confidence that Mr Di Stefano expressed in the British police, that they got 99% right, there would always be people in that 1%.
It is also fair to say that Mr Di Stefano’s advocacy for unpopular people helped make him one of the most prominent lawyers in the UK (even though he is not actually a lawyer!)
It does seem most odd that he could have continued on his merry way for as long as he did. After all the Independent piece, for example, makes clear that, despite his claims, he was not a lawyer. His position that he had been cleared on appeal of his conviction in 1986 too was shown to be false.
Indeed, following that conviction Mr Di Stefano pursued a complaint about delays in the proceedings against him to the European Court of Human Rights.
His application, made in 1986, was ruled inadmissible in 1989.
In the text of the decision (not all of which was available through Google) it states:-
“The applicant was convicted on 19 March 1986 of three counts and acquitted on the rest. He was sentenced to a total of five years’ imprisonment: fraudulent trading (2 years’ imprisonment), conspiracy to obtain property by deception (3 years) and obtaining £80,000 by deception (18 months concurrent to the first two consecutive sentences). On 14 August 1986 he was granted leave to appeal against conviction. His appeal was heard on 27 January 1987 but was dismissed by the Court of Appeal.”
Interestingly, by the time he came to trial (and this was the basis of his complaint to the European Court of Human Rights, he had been on remand and in custody for 19 months.
Mr Di Stefano’s reference to doing 9 months in prison might well be correct as far as the period after the verdict goes. That would mean he had spent 28 months in custody (including his time on remand) and thus would be deemed to have served the time making him eligible for release.
His denial of the facts and his efforts at gaining publicity (generally successful) show how easy it is to pull off a con. Like all the best hustlers, he did it in full view. How could anyone doubt he was a lawyer? After all he acted as a lawyer for all these people – how could he do so if he was not a lawyer!
In the Sheriff Courts in Scotland it is highly unlikely that anyone would insist upon seeing proof that one was entitled to appear in court as long as you turn up with a gown and wearing a suit. But, if one appeared on TV and in the press speaking as a solicitor, then one would think that someone would take an interest! After all, that is what regulatory bodies are for!
Back in 2004 the Scotsman wrote a piece about him which concluded:-
But now it seems the di Stefano show may be coming to an end. His claims to be a qualified avvocato – an Italian lawyer – are in doubt after he failed to produce evidence to justify them. Without such a qualification, he would not be eligible to practise as a solicitor or barrister in the UK.
As a foreign lawyer, he would also be required to be registered with the Law Society: the Law Society says that as far as it is concerned, he is not entitled to practise in the UK.
At the last count – and allowing for the loss of Shipman – he claimed to have 36 clients in jail awaiting appeals. But despite the success of the van Hoogstraten and Palmer cases, with the Lord Chancellor being urged to investigate the Italian’s right to practise law in the UK, his most impressive legal performance may yet need to be in defence of Giovanni di Stefano.
A prescient piece, and no mistake!
Mr Di Stefano and Rangers
And then, perhaps as his last hurrah, he popped up, like the Demon King, in the Rangers saga. His appearance was not invited by anyone involved with the football club, nor can anyone involved with oldco or newco be linked to him. He was simply a sideshow.
But his appearance, which included him acquiring a share in oldco (even though it was in administration) and trying to take action against Duff & Phelps, the administrators, as well as writing to the English football authorities looking to get oldco Rangers admitted to the Football League, was welcomed by some fans.
This shows I think the desperation many of them felt. It was sensed that there was no way out for the football team at that stage and anyone who offered a chink of light or who brandished even the flimsiest of straws, was seen as a potential saviour.
Fortunately there is no suggestion that Rangers fans paid Mr Di Stefano anything for what he was doing or trying to do for them. At least they do not join the list of his victims.
So, one of the most colourful characters in Scottish football history, following his time at Dundee and his involvement with Rangers, is now off to languish in gaol for a good many years.
Have we heard the last of him? I very much doubt it.
And think how many clients he can accumulate now – as he is with convicted men on a daily basis!
Despite his words above, in his post-verdict statement, he will undoubtedly seek to appeal.
He is already making it clear that he is a victim or a target for the state. He will, as the Scotsman said, now continue with the defence of Giovanni Di Stefano!
Posted by Paul McConville