ONE time Cobblers’ suitor, the self-styled lawyer Giovanni di Stefano, was today starting a 14-year sentence for a series of frauds on “desperate and vulnerable victims” whom he tricked into thinking he was a bona fide legal professional.
Di Stefano, aged 57, grew up in Wollaston, but later became known as the Devil’s Advocate for taking on “unwinnable” cases, was convicted on 25 charges including deception, fraud and money laundering between 2001 and 2011 at London’s Southwark Crown Court.
He pleaded guilty to another two counts of fraud and a further three counts were ordered to lie on file.
Judge Alistair McCreath, the Recorder of Westminster, noted there were many offences over significant periods of time.
The fact the victims, which included a disabled man seeking damages for the loss of an arm, were all “desperate and vulnerable” and faced losses which were not just financial but also included the “raising and dashing of false hope” were aggravating factors, the judge said.
He conned clients out of millions of pounds by setting himself up as a lawyer when he had no legal qualifications and was not registered to work as a lawyer in Italy or the UK.
He used the Italian word “avvocato” on business cards, letterheads and identification documents to give clients - and the judiciary - the impression he was an advocate.
In a loud voice di Stefano told the judge “I am obliged, my Lord” as he stepped out of the dock.
The judge told di Stefano: “I recognise that you did not actively seek out those whom you defrauded. They came to you. You did not approach them but there is more than one kind of predator.
“Some predators hunt down their victims, others lie in wait for them.
“Your victims in this case were all desperate people and people who, because of their desperation, were vulnerable.”
The judge also noted that, while this case is about money, “it is also about something different and great - it is about the real distress you caused to so many people”.
“You had no regard for them nor for their anguish,” he said. “Your only concern was to line your own pockets.”
During the trial di Stefano told of his links to Robert Mugabe, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and his “friendship” with the daughter of Slobodan Milosevic.
The court was shown a 2004 BBC documentary in which he described Saddam as a “nice guy” and boasted of being asked to defend killers such as Jeremy Bamber, Harold Shipman, Kenneth Noye and Linda Calvey.
In 2002 he embarked on a protracted, but ultimately dismally failed bid to buy Northampton Town FC.