A WELL-KNOWN Port Elizabeth lawyer has been found guilty of stealing R54000 of a payout to a brain-damaged man he represented in a case against the Road Accident Fund (RAF).
Rodney Mella, formerly of Rodney J Mella & Associates, was found guilty of fraud, theft of money from a trust account and forgery in the Port Elizabeth Commercial Crimes Court yesterday.
In handing down the guilty verdict magistrate Jan van der Vyver said to Mella: "You took advantage of a brain-damaged client when you committed these offences."
Mella represented Noel Abraham Joseph who was seriously injured in a car accident in September 2004. After the accident, Mella successfully sued the RAF, who offered to settle the matter and R75000 was deposited into Mella's trust account to be paid over to Joseph.
According to the evidence presented in court, Joseph was only given R15129 of this money and was ordered to sign a document stating that he accepted the offer of R20172 as a full and final settlement of his RAF claim.
In light of the seriousness of the injuries sustained by Joseph, family and friends, however, encouraged him to check directly with the RAF what the settlement amount had been.
In November 2007, he was informed the pay-out was R72000 plus an additional R3000 cost contribution, which was paid to Mella and Associates.
Later Joseph and a family member approached Mella's office to ask about the payment. Joseph then realised when perusing his file that the original document stating the amounts had been "tipp-exed out".
According to the indictment issued against Mella, Joseph then tried in vain to contact Mella, and eventually reported the matter to the Law Society.
On November 14 2007, Joseph and his sister, Alida Swarts, however, received a cheque of R19000 from Mella as an additional payment.
Mella, who is out on R1000 bail, will be sentenced on November 5.