A former Winnipeg property manager and lawyer is being spared disbarment, but he will never again be allowed to practise law after admitting to misusing more than $360,000 of property trust funds.
Jeff Rabb is instead being given a chance to resign as a member of the Law Society of Manitoba after pleading guilty to conduct unbecoming of a lawyer, as long as he promises to the regulator in writing to never again apply for membership in any law society.
He has 30 days to do that from the time his lawyer receives the three-person panel’s reasons for decision, which was issued on Jan. 23. If he doesn’t do it within that timeframe, or within a longer timeframe the law society agrees to, he’ll be disbarred.
Rabb was also ordered to pay the law society $4,525 in costs. A second charge of professional misconduct against him was stayed.
Rabb’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
In 2019, Rabb was sentenced to a year of house arrest and ordered to pay $100,000 after using investors’ money to fund projects including renovations on his home and a hockey rink in his backyard.
Regulator wanted disbarment
While Rabb didn’t present any evidence at the December 2022 law society hearing, the 65-year-old read a statement in which he apologized to those close to him for the harm he caused, the regulator’s decision said.
“He accepted ‘full responsibility’ for his actions, offered ‘no excuses,’ and asked only that he be spared the ‘last humiliation’ of being disbarred,” the decision said.
“The plea was clearly heartfelt and undoubtedly sincere.”
Rabb was charged by the law society in 2020 over his misuse of funds, which the decision said stretched from 2009 to 2015.
While he was not actively practising law at the time of the misconduct, the law society argued that was irrelevant and asked for his disbarment.
The decision to instead allow him the chance to resign was made by the law society’s discipline committee, which operates independently of the regulator and includes one public representative.
Leah Kosokowsky, chief executive officer of the Law Society of Manitoba, said in an emailed statement that while the regulator argued for a different outcome, it respects the panel’s decision.
‘Not overly sophisticated’ methods
The law society panel’s decision said the way Rabb misused the funds wasn’t likely to go unnoticed for long, partly because it required the help or acceptance of many other people.
“The panel notes that these methods of misappropriation were not overly sophisticated,” it said.
“Indeed, it is rather surprising that Mr. Rabb was able to continue his pattern of deceptions for as long as he did.”
In 2019, Rabb admitted to misusing funds in separate proceedings before the Manitoba Securities Commission and a Manitoba provincial court judge.
The securities commission revoked Rabb’s licence and banned him for life after a settlement agreement was signed saying he defrauded investors in his company Winpark Dorchester Properties — later called Alderman Capital Corporation — of more than $421,000.
These methods of misappropriation were not overly sophisticated…. It is rather surprising that Mr. Rabb was able to continue his pattern of deceptions for as long as he did.– Law Society of Manitoba reasons for decision
That agreement said Rabb used money from trust accounts belonging to roughly 50 Winpark-managed properties to pay for work on his house, his girlfriend’s house and an employee’s cottage.
To cover that up, the bills would then be written up as work done on Winpark properties and split between various invoices.
Rabb or another Winpark director also told contractors to make fake invoices, white-out addresses on receipts and change job site locations on documentation, the 2019 agreement said.
Rabb’s submission to the law society asked the regulator to allow him to resign instead of disbarring him — since in either case he would no longer be allowed to practice law, and the latter option carries more stigma.
Mitigating factors argued
It cited Rabb’s lack of previous disciplinary record, co-operation with the discipline process and remorse for his actions and the fact that he repaid all the misused money and related financial penalties as mitigating factors.
Rabb’s submission also said at the time of the misconduct, he was “susceptible to lapses in judgment” because he was under extreme stress related to depression, anxiety and worry about family problems and his loss of status as a successful businessperson.
The law society determined that given the circumstances of the case, Rabb having the option to resign was “within the range of reasonable outcomes.”
“The end result is that Mr. Rabb will no longer be able to practise law, in Manitoba or elsewhere,” the decision said, adding the result will maintain public confidence in the legal profession and satisfy the law society’s duty to protect the public interest.