Realtor was ‘terrible businessman,’ court hears

Sentencing for theft from clients adjourned to August

Former real estate broker Antonio Paolini was “a terrible businessman” who used money from two clients to pay business expenses and he never intended to benefit personally, a Grand Court judge was told on Wednesday.

Justice Philip St. John-Stevens listened via Skype to the facts of the case set out by Crown counsel Toyin Salako and then mitigation by defense attorney Alex Davies.

The judge said it was not a simple case of two sums of money being stolen; he indicated there were nuances he wanted to consider. He set sentencing for the week of Aug. 22 and continued the defendant’s bail.

Mr. Paolini, now 78, was found guilty by a jury in August 2017 of stealing $51,600 from a client who had in 2013 given his company the money for a parcel of land she wanted to buy near her sister. The client was a housekeeper by occupation and the money represented much of her life savings, Ms. Salako pointed out.

Instead of keeping the client’s money in a separate escrow account, Mr. Paolini put it in the only business account he had and then he used it to pay company expenses. The woman never received her money back nor did she get the land.

While Mr. Paolini was on bail during police investigation of this matter, another client gave one of his agents a check for $43,000 as down payment on some investment property. If the transaction had gone through, Mr. Paolini would have been entitled to some $14,000 in fees.

Mr. Davies acknowledged that the defendant had gambled that the transaction would go through and so he spent the money he would have been entitled to. “That was a form of hopeless optimism,” the attorney said, adding that the sale was not completed.

Mr. Paolini has since returned to the client the portion of the deposit that was not spent, it was noted.

He initially pleaded not guilty to this second theft charge, but changed his plea after all of the evidence had been presented to a jury earlier this year.

Justice St. John-Stevens was the judge for the second trial, so he is passing sentence for both offenses.

Ms. Salako said the offenses were breaches of trust. She noted that the maximum sentence for theft in Cayman is 10 years.

Mr. Davies urged the court to say that a suspended sentence of up to 24 months would meet the justice of the case.

He said it was never Mr. Paolini’s intention to deprive either person of their money permanently. The defendant knew the risks, but he did not intend to cause the harm that had resulted. He intended that more money would have been coming into the company.

When he could not pay back his first victim, he drew up a loan agreement, which she signed. In it, he promised to pay the money back with interest by the end of 2013. Mr. Davies said his client believed, on the basis of advice from another attorney, that the contract made it a civil matter, not criminal.

“He accepts he was a terrible businessman,” Mr. Davies told the court. Mr. Paolini had formed his company in 2003 and may have operated negligently, but not dishonestly, he suggested. The jury in the first trial had decided that the defendant’s dissipation of the money “crossed over from reckless to dishonest,” he said.

Mr. Paolini came to recognize during his second trial that what he had done was wrong; his change of plea showed genuine remorse, the attorney submitted.

Mr. Davies asked the judge to consider the defendant’s previous good character – not just an absence of any earlier convictions, but positive impact on the community through years of volunteer work. He also noted Mr. Paolini’s health issues.

The defendant currently does some computer repair work, but because his passport had been surrendered, he had been unable to fly to the U.S. to replenish his supplies. He was reliant on state funds for electricity and rent assistance.

“He is terrified by the prospect of prison,” the attorney said.