It is always a good day at Hay Tarn when another cowboy Willwriter is taken off the streets and held to justice. One such case is that of Walter Ventriglia from Sandhurst. He was found guilty of fraudulently mis-leading between 100 and 130 members of the public into thinking they had to re-write their Wills because of a change in government legislation.
Ventriglia’s Willwriting company was called Legacy and Law. He wrote to clients under the false name of Tony Edwards informing them that, because of a change in the law, their Wills required rewriting and he would do this for a fee between £30 and £60. There had been no change to the law and despite warnings from the trading standards team and the Probate Office, he continued with his con trick.
Ventriglia (age 47) claimed that his Will storage, known as UK Will Register based in London, stored Wills under the tightest security. In fact they were stored in his airing cupboard at home.
Judge Ross told Ventriglia his offences carried a maximum of 10 years imprisonment. He also recognised that Willwriting is unregulated and plans are under consideration to change this. He hoped this case highlighted the lack of protection available for the public.
The judge clearly defined that the public relied upon the professional skill and experience of a Willwriter for advice in very sensitive areas, especially in middle age and older. The public demanded great trust and integrity from an expert in preparing their Wills and they relied heavily upon them to distribute their estates as they wished and not to fall foul of intestacy.
Ventriglia claimed that all Wills were required to have each page numbered and signed by the testator and witness. Failure to do so would lead to the Probate Office declaring the Will invalid. Despite warnings he continued with the con-trick. It was estimated that as much as £5,000 was extracted from his distressed clients.
In his summing up, Judge Ross commented,
‘Finally, I find that there is this aggravating feature: the fact that this was an unregulated area of the delivery of legal services meant, in my view, that there is an even greater need for complete and utter integrity in dealing with the public because there is no other public protection for those who come to you to have their wills written.
I regard this because of the position of trust and manipulation of your clients,
combined with the lack of other public protection for them, as a very serious case and I
am satisfied that after trial, even with the mitigation that you are able to advance, it
would attract a sentence of around twenty-one months’ imprisonment. Giving you full
credit for your guilty plea the sentence I impose upon you is one of fourteen-months’
imprisonment and that will be a figure which I am unable to suspend.
The law requires that you serve half of that sentence and the balance will hang over your head.
I am not in a position to make any other orders at this stage.
Go with the officer, please’.
You can almost hear the cell door being slammed shut!
There is no doubt that the accreditation of being a member of the IPW and complying with a code monitored by the Office of Fair Trading provides the trust and integrity demanded by Judge Ross.
You may have your own views, but Walter Ventriglia must be contemplating the consequences of being a cowboy Willwriter as he sits in his cell tonight.