In 2012, she had big dreams. She had traveled several times between Saint Lucia and the United States and was now looking forward to finally settling down on her native island and creating for herself and her family a stable environment.
She planned to purchase farmlands and start a farming project. Juliette “Gigi” McFarlane told the STAR she was very excited about her future.
“After looking around,” she recalled “I took a special interest in some five acres of land with a few mature trees at Cacao, Babonneau.”
She talked over her ambition with a friend whose husband is an attorney.
“She told me that he would help me sign off on the purchase,” Gigi recalled. “I have a lawyer whom I have dealt with before, but I decided to give my friend’s husband a try. One morning after talking to his wife, the lawyer called me.”
The early morning call took Gigi by surprise. She caught herself wondering about his eagerness. What she was proposing wasn’t such a big deal, after all.
On March 12, 2013, Gigi says, a cheque was written by the bank to her friend’s husband, in the sum of EC$120,000 for the purchase of the land, plus EC$4,800 in tax fees. Gigi believed she was now one step closer to realizing her dream. Harsh reality soon hit her.
“On Easter Monday of 2013,” Gigi recalled, “I got a call from the attorney. He said he no longer had my money, since his account had been defrauded. Of course, I could not understand what he was saying, so I asked him to explain. He said, quite calmly, that someone with access to his firm’s accounts had cleaned out his clients’ account. He said he hoped to get the money back from his insurance.”
Some friends advised Gigi to call the bank. She did so the next day. She met the branch manager and a loans officer. They placed a conference call with the attorney in question.
“They too had a hard time following what the lawyer told them,” Gigi told the STAR, “so they asked him to put in writing what had happened and submit the report to the bank.”
Following the conference call, Gigi went to see the lawyer. He seemed unconcerned in the circumstances. “I was going out of my mind,” she revealed. “He tried to calm me down and assured me that everything would be resolved in a matter of weeks, since his insurance was going to cover his claim. But I just wanted my money.”
She called her friend, the lawyer’s wife, who tried to assure her that everything would be okay. One year later, Gigi still has not received a penny from the lawyer.
“In the meantime I am paying a mortgage and I have no idea when I am going to get my money back,” Gigi told the STAR. She made a report to the police a year or so ago but they offered little comfort.
We contacted the lawyer at the center of the matter. Henry Joseph repeated to us the story he had told Gigi. He added that some time last year a number of chambers had been defrauded, including his own.
“The difference is that we are the only ones taking the matter to court,” he said. Taking whom to court?
We asked whether he fully appreciated Gigi’s situation. “Well,” he said, “the matter is in court. You know how the court process goes. We are now awaiting a hearing date. There is nothing more we can do.”
Gigi has engaged the services of another lawyer whom she told the STAR has filed a case against Henry Joseph. She, too, is awaiting a court date. Meanwhile Gigi finds herself deeper and deeper in debt.
“If this man [Joseph] had at least made some attempt to give me back my money a little at a time, I would have understood. Right now, the land I wanted to purchase is no longer available. I am now unemployed, with a mortgage I cannot pay. What a nightmare.”
In Next Weekend’s STAR: Were local lawyers really scammed or are some of them operating their own con game at the expense of trust clients like Gigi?