Sydney lawyer Russle Keddie's firm represented battlers who needed every cent of their settlement payments after suffering serious injury.
Instead Keddie and his partners kept the bulk of the payments for themselves, and are now using loopholes in the law to hide their true wealth.
Their public face was the ordinary man's footy hero - Channel 9's Fatty Vautin, leaping out of billboards along the highways of working class suburbs.More stories from Today Tonight
Keddies Lawyers promoted themselves as the battler's friend, taking on their cases on a no win-no pay basis.
Motorcycle accident victim Matthew Gilbert is one of those battlers who trusted Keddies, and who is now suing the former partners of the firm.
He is one of more than 100 clients allegedly ripped off by men who used their knowledge of the law to feather their own nests.
Retired police officer Roy Kimpton is another. He injured himself in a fall.
“My life has changed dramatically,” Kimpton said.
Mahmoud Zoulfikar, a workplace accident victim, is also an alleged victim of Keddies.
Last year Keddies was sold to rival firm, Slater and Gordon, for $32 million. Russell Keddie shared that with two partners, yet last week he filed for bankruptcy. Missing from his list of assets were properties worth millions.
A five bedroom Sydney harbourside home, valued at four to five million dollars, was sold to Keddie’s wife for just $1.
She also picked up a $2.5 million five bedroom home in an exclusive enclave on Sydney's northern beaches for another dollar.
On top of that she's been handed control of their rural properties, including a cattle stud in the Hunter Valley.
QC David Galbally says assets transferred to avoid paying creditors may be overturned by a court.
“In a case like this present case, the transfer to the wife for $1 would be set aside, and the trustee and bankruptcy could get his clutches on to the property,” Galbally said.
Keddie's former partners, Tony Barakat and Scott Roulstone, have already failed to make court ordered compensation to former clients and are expected to follow the Keddies into bankruptcy.
Stephen Firth is the lawyer who's taking on the Keddies on behalf of the battler clients who say they were ripped off by the firm.
“Each of these people were injured in the first place, so they were vulnerable in that count. Many of them came from overseas countries like China,” Firth said.
“Most of them were working class people with no experience in the legal system, they were relying on Keddies, so if I can restore some faith in them for the system and solicitors, generally I've done what I set out to do.”
Kimpton was active and sporty until he lost balance on a wobbly step at an aquatic centre. He fell heavily down four steps onto concrete.
Keddies took on his case and won, but kept most of Kimpton's settlement.
“The amount of money that they've taken, and I have been told by a forensic accountant, was grossly overcharged. Out of the settlement money of $111,000, Keddies got $68,000 and I got $42,000,”Kimpton said.
According to Firth, “in the cases I've seen Keddies almost always took at least half, if not considerably more, and they would do so even in very, very large cases, and these weren't terribly complex or difficult cases.”
Kimpton is one of the few lucky ones - he won his case against Keddies and got compensation. The amount is confidential.
Unfortunately “many more will miss out,” Firth said.
Mahmoud Zoulfikar severly injured his back lifting a pallet at work and later found out accidently what his full settlement amount was.“They said to me we advise you to sign on the $450,000 and walk away. Then, after I signed, the solicitor turns the paper upside down and she shows me the real amount which is $925,000 - the full amount was $925,000. I got $457,000, Keddies got $458,000,” Zoulfikar said.
Photocopying charges were a massive $7600. Faxes were $1500 and medical reports were $28,654.
Another alleged victim, Matthew Gilbert, has also come forward, saying he felt pressured into taking a settlement.
“A lady did an illegal u-turn in front of me, and I collided inside of her. I broke my ac joint in my shoulder, I damaged my knee, had to have a reconstruction on that, damaged my sternum and I broke two ribs. They promised me they could get me quite a bit of money out of the insurance company,” Gilbert said.
They got it, but Keddies kept an outrageous cut of Gilbert's settlement.
“The settlement was for $250,000, Keddies ended up with $105,000 and I ended up with $125,000. I was very angry,” Gilbert said.Now Keddie is trying to avoid the check mate move by declaring bankruptcy, in another case of making the law work for him.
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