Former Rotarian was financial controller for law firm
Michael Sean Levitt, former financial controller at law firm Solomon Harris, was sentenced on Friday to seven and a half years in prison after pleading guilty to thefts totalling US$846,216.
The thefts involved 80 various transactions over a period of three years from December 2009 to December 2012. Crown counsel Michael Snape said the thefts were from the firm’s own accounts and not client accounts.
Mr. Snape and defense attorney Ben Tonner agreed on a hearing in three months to determine whether Levitt has assets that can be the subject of a confiscation order. Some assets have already been signed over to the firm, Justice Malcolm Swift was told.
Mr. Tonner said that Levitt, 56, arrived in the Cayman Islands after Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Convicted for work-related thefts in South Africa and Canada in the 1990s, he came here with the idea of starting with a clean slate.
Levitt worked at a local hotel and then two other businesses, volunteering with several charitable organizations. He was invited to join a Rotary Club, served as president and was voted Rotarian of the Year, Mr. Tonner said. A fellow Rotarian encouraged Levitt to apply for the position at Solomon Harris after they had worked together on a Rotary committee.
Justice Malcolm Swift commented on this background during sentencing. “I am satisfied that your involvement in Rotary demonstrates that you are also guilty of some degree of hypocrisy because it was, in my view, used by you as a tool for obtaining employment in which you were capable of stealing,” the judge said.
The only mitigating factor in Levitt’s case was his guilty pleas, which had saved the need for a trial, Justice Swift said.
The maximum sentence for theft in Cayman is 10 years.
Mr. Snape cautioned the court in being too concerned with the amount, citing other aggravating factors, especially the degree of trust Levitt had enjoyed.
Levitt “broke that trust in almost every possible way,” Mr. Snape said. One way was to submit a requisition form with a check that needed a partner’s signature. All but one of the forms subsequently went missing, leading to the inference that the forms were destroyed because they were bogus.
Cayman is a jurisdiction that relies heavily on the financial industry, Mr. Snape noted, and legal firms are essential to that industry.
Judge Swift said it was difficult to imagine a greater position of trust than financial controller. Levitt’s offending caused loss to his employers, had placed an intolerable burden on his fellow employees, and had put the high reputation of the firm at risk of potential damage, the judge said. “You took that risk without a care,” he told Levitt.
The judge said he did not accept that Levitt’s crimes elsewhere had stemmed from exposing criminality: “I think you are a person who makes up excuses,” he said.
He pointed out that Levitt was not in dire circumstances when the thefts occurred and there was no sudden demand on his income. The judge quoted Levitt as saying in a written statement, “I got caught up in the Cayman dream.”
Mr. Tonner had referred to this mind set in his mitigation. He said he had asked his client why he took the money and the answer was that Levitt saw people around him enjoying their high standard of living and he felt he had to conform.
Taking everything into account, including reference letters and a report from the prison service, Justice Swift concluded that eight years was the appropriate starting point for sentence. He increased that to 10 years for the aggravating features and then deducted 25 per cent credit for the guilty plea.