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HomeBusinessExclusive: Real estate lawyer rethinking run for Richmond mayoralty after Law Society accuses her of misconduct

Exclusive: Real estate lawyer rethinking run for Richmond mayoralty after Law Society accuses her of misconduct

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Bob Mackin

The real estate and immigration lawyer who wants to topple incumbent Malcolm Brodie and become Richmond’s first Chinese-born mayor is facing professional misconduct allegations from the Law Society of British Columbia.

In an exclusive interview with theBreaker, Hong Guo said she has not decided whether she will continue her campaign for the Oct. 20 civic election. She has until Sept. 14 to register for the ballot. 

“I don’t know, because it is difficult for me to explain this so-called citation,” Guo said on Sept. 8. “It is too difficult for me to explain that, although it is nonsense, although the hearing is not done yet, there is no result. It’s going to take a while to clear your name.”

Richmond lawyer Hong Guo announced her run to become Mayor of Richmond last June.

The lengthy, Sept. 4-issued citation accuses Guo of breach of accounting rules, failure to supervise/improper delegation, misappropriation/improper withdrawal, breach of undertaking to the Law Society, and breach of a Law Society order.

The allegations are unproven. Guo will face a hearing before a disciplinary panel on a date to be announced, some time after the election. If misconduct is proven, Guo could face reprimand, a maximum $50,000 fine, conditions or restrictions on her practice, a suspension, or expulsion from the legal profession.

“I expected politics could be dirty,” she said. “I am just a lawyer, I am a businessperson, so I don’t know how to play tricks and I don’t really know what tricks could be. But anyway, I believe, at the end, everything will be clear.”

Guo said she wants more details about the allegations against her, than what appears on the Law Society of B.C.’s website. She believes it all stems from the $7.5 million that went missing from her law firm’s trust accounts in early 2016. She accused two former employees of theft who she said laundered the money through B.C. casinos and took it to China. She claimed the Law Society, RCMP and her bank let her down, so she pursued the two ex-employees by herself in China until they were arrested in August 2017 in Zhuhai, a city near gambling haven Macau. Guo said she sold her share of a company that holds an investment property on 15th Avenue in Surrey to help repay the stolen funds.

“I paid every penny of the shortage, that I am a victim of this theft matter,” she said.

In April of this year, Guo filed a lawsuit against CIBC, seeking $6.6 million because she alleges the bank was wilfully blind or reckless for failing to prevent former bookkeeper Zixin Li (aka Jeff Li) and ex-receptionist Qian “Danica” Pan from misappropriating funds from a trust account.

The detailed accusations in the Law Society’s citation claim:

Will Hong Guo remain in the race?

  • Guo breached Law Society accounting rules between January 2014 and April 2016 by failing to retain bank statements, cancelled cheques and bank deposit slips from trust accounts and she allegedly failed to report certain trust accounts were short and bank accounts overdrawn.
  • She gave a non-lawyer one or more of 112 pre-signed blank trust cheques, and permitted a non-lawyer to issue one or more of 90 trust cheques drawn on a trust account totalling $44.7 million without proper supervision.
  • She failed to properly supervise bookkeeper Li, improperly delegating trust accounting responsibilities to him or both during the first quarter of 2016, “thereby facilitating the misappropriation” of $7.5 million from a trust account.
  • She misappropriated or improperly withdrew a total $7.9 million of client trust funds from April 2016 to June 2016, when trust accounting records were not current. There was a combined shortage of almost $650,000 from the accounts, the Law Society claims. 

The Law Society also alleges Guo breached an April 19, 2016 undertaking by failing to immediately open a new trust account for new client matters, by depositing $196.6 million into a trust account related to 165 new client matters and that she withdrew $7.27 million in trust funds with as many as 30 cheques that had not been signed by a second signatory. The Law Society also says she breached an interim order, made by three of its benchers, by depositing $24.4 million and making an $80,000 payment to a client affected by a shortage in a trust account without the society’s knowledge or consent.

“It’s not right,” Guo said of the claims against her in the citation. “It’s twisted. It’s not truthful.”

Guo is a 14-year resident of Richmond with a law degree from Ontario’s University of Windsor. She was called to the B.C. bar in 2009. She said she is concerned about traffic congestion, public safety, affordable housing and job and education opportunities for youth. Her campaign logo is a stylized bridge, which symbolizes her advocacy for a bridge to replace the George Massey Tunnel and for strengthening cultural ties between Richmond and China.

Guo said she originally decided to challenge Brodie, a lawyer who has been Richmond’s mayor since 2001, because “I just cannot sit there anymore as resident of Richmond, as a mother, as a lawyer, I just don’t think we can just sit there and to wait. We need to do something.”

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