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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 from Marshside in Canterbury 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, 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 agains 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."