Jail for man who faked £7m will to cheat charity
A man who faked a relative’s will to prevent a charity benefitting from a multi-million pound legacy has been jailed.
Paul Coppola, 65, admitted forging the signature of Desiderio Coppola just days before his death in October 2011.
The deceased had wanted his £7m estate to be divided between his family and the balance left to the charity, Medecins Sans Frontieres.
Coppola was jailed for two years at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.
The court was told that Coppola had known his second cousin, Desiderio Coppola, all his life and that the accused had referred to him as “uncle”.
In July 2010 Desiderio Coppola made a will bequeathing much of his estate to his friends and family, including £100,000 to Paul Coppola.
It also gave instructions that tenants of business premises that he owned were to be offered the chance to buy them.
Mr Coppola also stated that the residue of his estate was to go to Medecins Sans Frontieres, the charity that provides medical assistance in war torn regions and developing countries.
However, days before his gravely ill relative’s death, the court was told that Paul Coppola presented a new will to the family that made no mention of the charity.
It also made no reference to the business premises and instructed that the remainder of the estate be paid to Coppola, of Waverley Park Terrace, Edinburgh.
Fiscal Ann MacNeill told the court that the day after Desiderio Coppola’s death, the accused contacted his goddaughter, Elvira Fearn, to tell her about the content of the faked document.
The fiscal said: “Although she had no knowledge of the wills or the deceased’s intentions, she was suspicious of the will because she was aware that the deceased hated to pay tax and she did not believe that he would have omitted Medecins Sans Frontieres completely and left the residue to the accused as there would have been a large tax liability to pay.”
She added: “Elvira Fearn was of the opinion that the changes to the will reflected the accused’s allegiances rather than the wishes of the deceased.”
Several days after the death, friends and family held a meeting with Coppola, where he was asked how the new will had come about.
The fiscal said: “The accused explained that he found out that the deceased was due to leave the majority of his wealth to charity and that he had persuaded the deceased to change his will.
“He said the deceased had agreed to change the terms of his will.”
In June 2012 confirmation of the will was granted and a total of £1.2m was paid to friends and family who had been bequeathed specific amounts.
By March 2013 Coppola had received a property from the estate in Edinburgh’s Raeburn Place, which he sold for £290,000. He also received a further property in the city’s Waterloo Place.
Coppola also received more than £270,000 from the estate into his bank account in October 2013.
However, weeks later lawyers went to the Court of Session in Edinburgh and successfully raised an action to have the will set aside.
Coppola chose not to defend the action.
The police were informed and lawyers then took over administration of the estate and began trying to recover money that had been due to the charity.
Coppola later admitted to officers that he had forged the signature of his relative.
Sheriff Frank Crowe told him: “Your actions caused much grief, inconvenience and disappointment to the other legatees and your friends and uncertainty to the tenants of properties which were rented from the deceased.”
The sheriff told Coppola he would have faced a three-year jail sentence if he had been convicted after trial, but it would be reduced in view of his early guilty plea.