Wednesday 7 December 2016

Former solicitor stole €260k from clients after series of 'catastrophic' investments

Isabel Hayes

Published 07/11/2016 | 17:31

(stock)
(stock)

A former solicitor who was €6.5 million in debt stole €260,000 from her clients after she made a series of “catastrophic” investments during the property boom, a court has heard.

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Jacqueline Durcan (47) previously from Co Mayo but with an address in Rue Laubespin, Brussels, Belgium, pleaded guilty to one count of stealing €260,000 between February 21, 2008 and January 27, 2011.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard today, that Durcan, a mother-of-five, was running the family business, Durcan Solicitors in Castlebar, Co Mayo, at the time of the offence. She had taken over the practice, which was set up by her grandfather, from her father after he had a stroke, the court heard.

Garda Noel Brown told Sean Gillane SC, prosecuting, that between 2008 and 2011, Durcan made five withdrawals of sums of up to €100,000 from mixed client deposit accounts.

The court heard Durcan and her husband owed €6.5 million to the banks at the time. Some of the money was spent on office expenditure and professional indemnity insurance, Gda Brown said. However, in September 2010, Durcan used €51,500 of the money to pay for the purchase of her own home, the court heard.

Upon hearing her practice was due to be audited in early 2011, Durcan contacted the Law Society and told them there would be a deficit in the accounts. The garda bureau of fraud investigation was informed in 2013 and Durcan was interviewed by gardaí in 2014.

The court heard it was extremely difficult to ascertain which clients had money stolen from them, as the funds were taken from mixed accounts. In 2014, the Law Society paid out €206,184 in compensation claims, which Durcan has since repaid.

Durcan was struck off in 2011 and moved to Belgium with her family, where she now teaches English as a foreign language. She has no previous convictions.

Defence barrister, Patrick Gageby SC, said his client and her husband were in the difficult position of owing €6.5 million to the banks at the time of the offence.

“This young couple overreached themselves during the property bubble,” he said. “They made a series a ventures which brought catastrophic circumstances on themselves and their family.”

The couple now live in “egregious” financial circumstances in Belgium and struggle to support themselves and their five young children who are all aged under 14, Mr Gageby said.

“This is not a case in which anybody set out to enrich themselves,” he said. “It's not a case where she set out to defraud her clients.”

The thefts took place at a time when Durcan had a young family and was trying to run a practise with two full-time and four part-time workers, Mr Gageby added.

He said Durcan was extremely remorseful and has had to close the family practice that was “at the forefront of Mayo legal circles for 90 years”.

“My client is aware of what she has brought on herself and her husband and her family,” Mr Gageby said, adding Durcan's mother was in court to support her. She was extremely unlikely to re-offend, he added.

Judge Melanie Greally said she would need some time to consider sentence. She adjourned the matter to November 21.

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