The offense to which Vitale Santoro pleaded guilty is to claiming personal expenses under false pretences, totaling $100,000, thus receiving a temporary disbarment for eight years.
The decision on the sanction rendered by the Disciplinary Committee of the Barreau du Québec, on March 31, refers to facts that occurred from 2014 to 2016 and for which the firm Osler paid the price.
As of February 2016, Vitale Santoro is co-chairman of Osler’s corporate department in Montreal, in addition to having served on the firm’s executive committee from 2013 to 2015.
The firm then received information according to which the high-flying lawyer, who spent less than a week a month in Montreal, was acting “inappropriately with respect to funds belonging” to Osler, which then launched an investigation into these allegations.
Vitale Santoro was placed on leave with pay on March 15, 2016. The internal investigation conducted by Osler concluded with a complaint to the syndic of the Bar, in April 2016. Vitale Santoro resigned on April 15, the day after the complaint was filed.
He had left Osler for Blakes during the same period, in April 2016. He announced his arrival at Blakes on April 7, a few days before he left Osler. Asked whether the firm knew, could have or should have known that there were allegations against Mr. Santoro and that an investigation was underway, Blakes did not respond quickly to our requests for comment.
He had been recruited by Osler in 2007 as a partner after a stint at Fraser Milner Casgrain, which would become Dentons in 2013.
Following his resignation from Osler, Vitale Santoro claims the balance of his fees due for the year 2015. Osler hires forensic accountants, and continues its internal investigation.
“Investigation reveals that from April 2014 to April 2016, ‘Me’ Santoro misappropriated significant sums, primarily by claiming and receiving reimbursements for personal expenses claimed as business development expenses,” it read. in the decision of the Disciplinary Committee.
The facts are admitted by the respondent, who pleaded guilty and who therefore received the recommendation made jointly by his lawyer, the criminal lawyer Mr. Steven Slimovitchand the assistant syndic Me Brigitte Nadeau.
The charge is as follows: “In Montreal, on numerous occasions, on or about April 1, 2014, on or about April 16, 2016, the date of his resignation from the law firm of Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP /srl, (“Osler”) claimed and obtained from this firm where he was a partner, payments and/or reimbursements for falsely claimed personal expenses, for an amount of at least $100,000.00. »
Vitale Santoro thus contravened the provisions of Article 4 of the Code of Ethics for Lawyers and Article 59.2 of the Professional Code.
He says he is underpaid
Admitted to the Bar in 1998, a graduate of the Université de Montréal, he led the way and billed Osler for several personal expenses.
In his testimony, Vitale Santoro explains that at the time of the events, he was involved in two very important mandates which led him to travel abroad regularly, and was only in Montreal “six to seven days a month. Mr. Santoro believes that he was not sufficiently compensated by Osler for the mandates in question,” the decision reads.
He thus charges plane tickets and personal expenses or expenses made for his relatives to business development expenses, invoices for “leisure trips, accommodation and meals associated with personal expenses”, modifies invoices, and makes false claims.
“The scheme and/or system put in place by “Me” Santoro consists in imputing personal expenses as being expenses for the development of the business of the clients and then having them borne by Osler”, indicates the Disciplinary Committee.
For the disciplinary tribunal, the objective seriousness of the offense committed by Mr. Santoro, who had been practicing for almost 20 years at the time of the events, argues for the temporary expulsion of eight years.
Called to comment on the sanction, Line Fisetsenior director, client development at Osler, says that at the time of his resignation, Vitale Santoro “was under investigation by the firm for embezzlement”, and that he was “fully aware of this investigation and had been placed on leave by the Cabinet”.
Invoking its professional obligations, the firm informed the syndic of the Barreau du Québec of the conclusions of its investigation.
Osler assumed all of the costs of Mr. Santoro’s alleged shortfalls, but did not say whether the bogus expenses were reimbursed. In his testimony, Vitale Santoro claims to have done so, but the Disciplinary Committee says it has no evidence that this is the case.
Let’s unplug it
He returned to Dentons in February 2018, less than a year before he “became disqualified from practicing as a barrister” in September 2019, according to information in the disciplinary decision.
Indeed, “Mr. Santoro transferred his property on September 25, 2019” and thus lost his right to practice, reports the Disciplinary Committee.
However, according to what Droit-Inc was able to see, as of April 20, 2022 in the morning, Vitale Santoro was still listed as a member of the Barreau du Québec on his professional page hosted by Dentons.
He is employed by Dentons as Business Advisor, Commercial, but seems to indicate that he is still a member of the Quebec Bar. As for his credentials, it can also be seen that he displays his admission to the Bar in 1998.
Informed of the situation, the Barreau du Québec indicates that the deregistration decision becomes enforceable after 30 days. However, “the moment a lawyer becomes disqualified from practicing, he loses his status as a member of the Bar. This therefore falls under the jurisdiction provided for by the monitoring mechanisms for the illegal exercise of the profession, ”specifies spokesperson Martine Meilleur. Droit-Inc asked whether the fact of suggesting that Vitale Santoro was still a member of the Order, when this is inaccurate, could justify an intervention by the Bar.
As for Dentons, we submitted the same questions to them, seeking to know whether to appear as a member of the order despite Mr. Santoro having lost his right to practice for three years, and being struck off for three weeks , is a violation of Dentons internal rules.
As of this writing, Dentons has yet to respond.
However, Mr. Santoro’s professional page was taken down within minutes of our interview requests.
It was not possible to reach Mr. Santoro. His lawyer Steven Slimovitch explained to Droit-Inc that his client “wanted to turn the page on these events and start a new life”.
The cell phone number assigned to Vitale Santoro, on his Dentons page, displays the area code for the United Arab Emirates, Droit-Inc.