Former beauty queen guilty of £30k legal aid fraud

Nicola Gonelli leaves the Sheriff Court. Picture: TSPL
Nicola Gonelli leaves the Sheriff Court. Picture: TSPL
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A FORMER Miss Edinburgh who was once engaged to Britain’s biggest conman has been convicted of fraud for claiming legal aid – despite having £30,000 of investments.

Shamed ex-beauty queen Nicola Gonelli pretended she had no savings while applying for public assistance to pay for a solicitor.

She was seeking legal help over custody arrangements for her son and to fight for ownership of her home, which was under a joint mortgage.

However, officials from the Scottish Legal Aid Board probed her case and discovered she had tens of thousands of pounds stashed in a fixed-term bond.

Gonelli was sentenced for her deceit at Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday.

Now unemployed, and with only income from Jobseekers Allowance, she was allowed to pay back the stolen cash in £5 a week instalments.

It was a marked fall from grace for the 45-year-old.

Back in 2000, Gonelli was due to marry serial fraudster Paul Bint, who told her he was a high-flying advocate and had showered her with lavish gifts such as a £14,000 Cartier watch and £26,000 engagement ring.

Bint – who was branded King Con for his notorious scams – had adopted a string of aliases, pretending to be a doctor, an aristocrat and a senior barrister working on the Lockerbie trial, and has been jailed several times for fraud. Living a millionaire lifestyle with Bint during their three-month relationship, Gonelli dreamed she would “never have to work again”.

The couple split while Gonelli was pregnant with his child.

She learned of his real identity after he was arrested for stealing court papers.

Gonelli was ordered to repay the legal aid cash after being convicted at a trial in March. She was found guilty of fraudulently obtaining legal aid by stating that she had no financial savings or investments to solicitor Robert Gilmour at the Edinburgh office of Hughes Walker solicitors between September 13 and November 3, 2010.

The Legal Aid Board’s investigations team discovered she held capital totalling £31,828.26, considerable assets which would have barred her claim.

Sheriff Fiona Reith, QC, ordered Gonelli to pay a compensation order for £426.08, the amount she was fraudulently given.

The sheriff heard that Gonelli was receiving benefits, so allowed a £5 weekly payment.

Gonelli, of Lindsay Road, Leith, refused to comment on the case as she hurried away from court.

A Scottish Legal Aid Board spokesman said: “Unfortunately, there will be a small number of people who will attempt to defraud or abuse the legal aid system. We investigate the information provided by applicants for legal aid. We also investigate representations made to us about applicants’ financial circumstances by other parties in civil cases. In the most serious cases, we report people to the procurator fiscal.”

In 2011-12, the board made 19 such reports where applicants did not declare property or assets. The board’s investigations work also resulted in savings and recoveries of some £1.5 million.

Living the lie with ‘King Con’

NICOLA Gonelli was working as a secretarial temp when she met Paul Bint at a function in Edinburgh.

The fraudster introduced himself as “Lachlan Breedem” – his new name – and claimed he was a top barrister. The couple were soon engaged.

Gonelli was pregnant by Bint, now 50, when he was arrested in March 2000 and his past came to light. Bint had assaulted Gonelli two weeks before their planned marriage when she confronted him about his identity. He was jailed for four months.

Bint began his fake medical career at just 14 by posing as a GP. In 1984, he was jailed for five years for stealing a Rolls-Royce and a Porsche while posing as a brain surgeon. He was imprisoned again in 1988 for posing as the Earl of Arundel to acquire an £83,000 Ferrari.

In 1993, he was detained at a psychiatric unit for posing as a doctor, but was released and set himself up as a bogus locum at Royal Preston Hospital. Bint told the parents of dying teenage girl that she would survive but six hours later she died.

Bint was also given a two-year jail sentence after impersonating a lawyer in the Lockerbie trial.

He claimed to have blown £2 million using fake or stolen credit cards.