Monday 25 September 2017

Bank manager who stole over €3m in ‘ponzi scheme’ jailed for over four years

Conor Gallagher

A Bank of Ireland manager who stole over €3m from his employers in a "ponzi scheme" has been jailed for four and a half years at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

William Freeland (57) was employed as a business manager in the Bray Branch when he began setting up lending accounts in fake names and taking money from them.

He would then open up more accounts to get money to repay the loans taken from previous ones.

He stole a total of €3.38m, of which he repaid €2.53m using money he took from later accounts.

The scam went on for five years before Freeland was caught and dismissed.

Nearly €850,000 remains outstanding including €320,000 in interest and charges. Freeland claims he spent €209,000, or six percent of the total amount, on himself.

He went on several family holidays and golf trips and bought a car.

He told gardai the money went on “bits and pieces” and that he “just couldn’t say no to himself”.

The court heard he wasn’t a gambler and has no significant assets to show for his theft.

When he was fired and arrested he told investigators he was glad he was caught.

For six months after his dismissal he did not tell his wife and children about it and sat in his car all day while they thought he was at work.

Judge Martin Nolan noted he had operated a sort of “ponzi scheme” and that once Freeland had started he couldn’t stop.

The judge said he was a good man and an asset to his community where he was heavily involved in the local soccer club Leicester Celtic.

He also noted his remorse and co-operation into the investigation which avoided the need for a complex and lengthy trial.

However he said because the crime was “great” and carried out with “malice aforethought”, a jail sentence must be imposed.

Judge Nolan rejected an offer by the defence counsel to use money inherited by Freeland’s wife to partially compensate the bank.

The judge said he didn’t think it was appropriate to take his wife’s money and give it to the bank.

Freeland of Ardmore Lawn, Bray, Co. Wicklow pleaded guilty to ten sample counts of theft and false accounting between September 2004 and April 2009 at the Bray and Kill o'the Grange Bank of Ireland branches.

Detective Garda Alan Egan told prosecuting counsel Garret Baker BL that there were 137 fraudulent transactions overall.

It began when Freeland made a “bad decision” in his role as a business manager and was left with “a hole” in one of his client’s accounts.

He opened up a loan account under a fake name to raise money to cover this hole. When he realised he could continue the scam, he opened up further accounts.

Overall he opened nine loan accounts, two current accounts and one savings account under a variety of false identities.

He would keep borrowing from new accounts to repay money from older ones while also taking some of the money for himself.

He lodged €182,000 to two of his credit cards, withdrew €21,000 in cash and used another €5,000 to buy a vehicle.

The scam was uncovered in early 2010 during an internal review.

When bank investigators confronted Freeland he admitted everything and helped with the investigation.

He was fired in June 2010 and arrested shortly afterwards. He also made full admissions to the gardai.

Freeland began working in the bank in 1973 and rose to become an assistant branch manager and then a business manager in several branches.

Defence counsel Laurence Masterson BL said he earned about €45,000 “in a good year”.

Counsel said that Freeland took full responsibility and didn’t try to attribute the thefts to “the culture in the bank.”

He said his client has lost his friends and colleagues and has “cast a shadow” over his wife and three children. He added he is now on job seeker’s allowance and will have to live with the shame and remorse of his actions.

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