Lynn — the life and crimes of a smooth-talk solicitor
April 27 2008 04:50 AM
He had everyone fooled: colleagues, clients, family, friends, bankers, journalists. Everyone fell for him — his intelligence, wealth, ambition, charm, confidence, swagger, insatiable drive and legal wherewithal. But what we failed to see was the darkness that lay beneath; a ruthless dishonesty, voracity and crookedness.
Arguably Ireland’s most notorious white-collar criminal, 39-year-old solicitor Michael Lynn preyed on people’s trust to amass a fortune, then fled the country last December — leaving behind a labyrinth of lies and deceit, €85m in debts and a fresh-faced new wife.
Lynn now faces 48 charges of professional malpractice, and 55 civil High Court cases are being taken against him.
On Tuesday, the Law Society succeeded in having him struck off and fined €2m. Prior to that, 180 bottles of French and South African wines seized from Michael Lynn’s home at the behest of his creditors were sold off at public auction. They made just €3,000.
In a recent twist, Lynn signed documents indicating his willingness to take part in former client Brian Cunningham’s lawsuit against First Active — one of the banks badly hit by Lynn’s quagmire of financial deception. On March 21 it was reported that Lynn had faxed an 18-page witness statement. The case is due to reach court tomorrow. If Lynn returns to give evidence, he faces immediate arrest.
Now a fugitive, the Michael Lynn we know today is a far cry from his origins. Born on a 100-acre farm in the small north Mayo enclave of Crossmolina, to Hugh and Angela Lynn, Michael is the youngest of seven children.
He was educated at the local boys’ National School and later at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Gortnor Abbey in Crossmolina.
Academically capable, Lynn went to Trinity in 1987 to study law. In November 1994, he enrolled as a solicitor and began practising at the Dublin firm of Moran & Ryan.
Before turning 30 he set up his own practice, Michael Lynn & Co, in Blanchardstown, Co Dublin.
In 2000, Lynn made a fleeting foray into the recruitment industry, but sold his share in the various businesses to his then business partner Kate Ryan. The reason? The property market was just too appealing. Michael Lynn had bigger ideas and broader ambitions. He saw euro signs — big, fat, shiny ones.
Lynn later moved his West Dublin offices to bigger premises on Capel Street, close to the Four Courts, where he would spend some time (but not enough) accounting for his dodgy dealings.
A colleague who knew Lynn in his early days said he had a “very likeable personality. But you would not have marked him out as someone who was going to turn into a major wheeler-dealer. In fact, I would have thought he was more likely to have gone back home to Mayo and set up a nice country practice.”
Another solicitor who knew him more recently, said: “I acted for a disgruntled client of Lynn’s who complained about excessive fees and withholding of documents, and I threatened to report him to the Law Society. That resolved the matter. He backed down.”
Lynn began focusing his attention on litigation and property conveyancing, handling the legal transactions of many leading developers and builders. This facilitated the career path that would result in his professional demise, and in Lynn being branded a criminal.
It was in 2003 that Lynn started to develop his own property empire in earnest. He teamed up with Dublin property developer John Riordan, and Kendar Holdings was born. The company was named after two of Lynn’s childhood friends, Ken and Dara, who died in separate incidents. In mid 2005, Michael Lynn bought out Riordan’s equity share in Kendar and Riordan has had no connection with or involvement in the company since.
Initially, Lynn started buying property in both Ireland and Britain, but soon focused his attentions further afield. Lynn’s first overseas property acquisition was a 272-apartment complex in Portugal.
As a youngster, Lynn was a keen GAA and music enthusiast. He and former Eurovision contestant Marc Roberts performed together at church ceremonies, later joining forces as part of a wedding band.
Lynn liked the limelight and clearly fancied himself as a frontman. At the height of his public ousting, at a time when he must have thought things really couldn’t get any worse, he was unmasked as a country and western singer. An internet blogger came across a 10-track album that Lynn had recorded in 1995/1996. “Don’t Let Me Down,” he crooned in his contrived country tones. If only Michael Lynn had practised what he preached.
At the height of his success, Michael Lynn was a media darling, parading himself around the place, cajoling world-renowned sports stars into promoting his product. Portuguese footballing legend Rui Costa provided the face of his Algarve development, while former Mayo footballer Willie Joe Padden and international soccer star Ray Houghton were both enlisted for promotional purposes. Galway hurler Joe Connolly worked as an agent for the disgraced solicitor.
They have all since disassociated themselves from Lynn. Connolly expressed his “disgust” at the debacle. Padden, who released a statement through his solicitor, said, “My duties were to market the property and pass on enquiries to Mr Lynn who negotiated the sales, and thereafter I had no further involvement with the transaction.”
RTE’s Late Late Show was another trustworthy institution called into service for Lynn’s financial purposes. In February 2006, a couple won a luxury penthouse apartment in the ski resort of Bansko, Bulgaria on the Late Late Show (the single biggest prize ever to be given away in the history of the popular RTÉ programme).
David Timlin and Olivia Joyce from Mayo were the winners of the prize which had been donated by Lynn as a joint sponsor, through Kendar with the Sunday Business Post.
The following day, Lynn used the beaming, new-home-owning couple to endorse a property exhibition. Less than three months later, Lynn flew the couple on the five-day trip to Bulgaria to see the picturesque location of the holiday home. But, as was the case with most people who crossed paths with Michael Lynn, they were to be let down. The couple’s property was scheduled for completion last summer, yet so far, not a centimetre of concrete has been poured, not a single brick laid.
In May 2005, Lynn explained his interest in using sports stars: “People who have brought sport on to a higher level have a huge ability to achieve in business. People identify with their sporting heroes, who are often the local guys who have proudly represented their community and would be as trustworthy in business as they were on the pitch.”
Having latched onto the honest reputations of others, he then tried to portray himself in the same light. He told customers : “In Ireland it is said that there are three factors to ensure success in the property market: Location, Location, Location. With overseas property it is: Investigate, Investigate, Investigate.”
He then further sought to reassure those from whom he was seeking investment funds for his foreign forays by telling them: “We have a financial and legal team who will carry out all the checks and searches to check out fully the properties we are marketing … the Irish are very sophisticated buyers and know what to look for when making a property investment. But the key thing is to know your exit strategy before you start.”
The law firm to which clients were referred to was called Overseas Property Law, of which Michael Lynn was a director. He even had the nerve to call for the selling of overseas properties in the Irish market to be regulated.
However, when it came to his own turn to exit, there did not seem to be a very elaborate strategy. And it was only the fact that he was given so much time at liberty after his double and treble dealing was discovered, that allowed him to get clean away. Neighbours witnessed his belongings being taken from his home and packed into British-registered removal vans in the days before he took flight. A computer server containing vital information relating to his extensive property affairs had also been removed.
With business going swimmingly and with serious money being made, Lynn could easily afford to give his bride the type of wedding most women only dream of. On April 8, 2006, he married Clare-born clinical nurse Brid Murphy at her home town of Tulla. The reception was held in the prestigious Dromoland Castle in a fairytale ceremony, witnessed by 200 guests, including well-known faces from the world of entertainment, sport and politics. A wedding of Hello! magazine calibre, Lynn rented out the entire castle. It fitted in with the flashy lifestyle. Reportedly, he had a share in the use of an executive jet. And on March 3, the Irish Times reported that Lynn’s company Kendar had forked out a €6,000 deposit on a Range Rover in February 2006, made monthly repayments of €3,200 on a loan for a Jaguar and a further €3,250 for a loan on a Mercedes.
His wife maintains she was an innocent victim in the whole sordid affair and that she did not know about her husband’s dealings. She swore that the last time she saw her husband before he bolted was on December 10 last, and has told gardai that he has not returned her calls since. They had been married just 20 months.
Now, she’s suing Lynn for her share of the proceeds of the sale of their Sandymount home (still on the market after failing to receive a single bid at auction).
Not too long after turning 38, Lynn had extended his property portfolio to 105 in destinations around the world as far afield as China. The number of properties had stretched to 148 by the time he was finally exposed.
In the short space of nine months, Michael Lynn borrowed more than €25m. In January 2006, he bought Glenlion House on Howth Head by tender for over €5m, and spent over €1m refurbishing it. It later emerged that Lynn had taken three mortgages out on this house alone. Situated on a 4.75-acre site, the private residence has stunning views of Dublin Bay, a private beach and a landscaped garden. (In January, it sold at auction for €4.9m.)
While hindsight is a wonderful thing, there’s no denying the signs were clearly there. Michael Lynn appeared in Stubb’s Gazette, before he embarked on a remortgaging crime spree.
Furthermore, on Rateyoursolictor.com, countless comments were posted prior to the exposure of his financial skulduggery. On September 4, 2006, a man by the name of Paul Cooney wrote, “This guy conveys property all right, but the fees are astronomical and he’d cut your nose off for a penny. Advice: cheque [sic] every inch of your invoice (although he takes cash) and never lodge money with him as his client account funds his property deals. He runs a property development company selling apartments in Spain/Portugal. Buys a block of 20 for 1 million and sells each unit for 250,000.00 (plus VAT and outlay). Oh he’s a gangster.”
On February 28, 2007, a “solicitor” posted the following: “Absolute disgrace, never replies to correspondence or returns phone calls. Law Society, where are you?”
The Law Society eventually did catch up with him, seven months later.
It was Lynn’s former colleague, solicitor Fiona McAleenan, who first alerted the Law Society to Lynn’s deceitful shenanigans, having resigned from his practice days previously.
On October 7, 2007, the Law Society moved to shut down Lynn’s legal practice. Three days later, the High Court froze his assets. The Garda Fraud Squad was drafted in.
He returned to Ireland from Portugal to face the music. On October 15, Lynn appeared before the High Court. Dapperly dressed in a pin-striped designer suit, the full-faced, greying and exhausted looking solicitor was flanked by his glamorous wife.
But then he dramatically changed his mind about participating in the judicial inquiry into his affairs, and fled. On December 12 a warrant for Michael Lynn’s arrest was issued after he failed to appear in court. More than four months on, he’s still at large. There have been many sightings of the disgraced solicitor. On Monday, December 10 of last year, Lynn was with his wife in London at the office of his new solicitor, Merriman White (Giles Kennedy and Co and Seán Sexton of PJ Walsh & Company both withdrew as his legal representatives). On December 16, the weekend after an arrest warrant was issued, Lynn was seen enjoying some footie at the Emirates Stadium in London for the big match between Arsenal and Chelsea.
Gardai cannot extradite Lynn because no criminal charges have been brought and no international warrant has been issued.
His wife celebrated her 34th birthday, which falls on Christmas Day, without her husband by her side. It was widely reported that he spent Christmas in South America (where he has various property interests, notably in Rio).
It was also speculated that he returned to Ireland in January but slipped out of the country again before gardai could arrest him.
On January 11, Lynn was spotted at Newark airport disembarking a flight from Lisbon. He was detained and questioned by US border immigration control officers. He told them he was only staying in New York for three days. He was released and it is believed he returned to Portugal.
On January 21, Lynn failed to turn up to court for the second time. Two days later, he was sighted in the Bulgarian capital Sofia. However, it has been widely speculated that Lynn was, or perhaps even still is, operating his business from Tavira, a small town in Portugal.
Meanwhile back home, those banks which were conned by Michael Lynn were desperately jockeying for pole position in claiming a chunk of his assets — estimated to be worth €52.4m (according to his court affidavit).
Some of them launched legal proceedings in European countries in an attempt to seize Lynn’s overseas assets.
But there were other victims too — the couples and individuals who handed over hefty deposits, some even the full amount, for their dream home abroad.
In the person of these customers, Michael Lynn has truly blighted lives in a manner that proves ultimately there was not a shred of nobility about this “gentleman” thief.