independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Former suicide charity boss avoids jail for stealing €36k from organisation

Declan Behan
Declan Behan

A FORMER chief executive of a suicide awareness charity who admitted stealing over €36,000 from the organisation has avoided a jail term.

Declan Behan (42) of Boyne View, Slane, Co Meath, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to six sample charges of theft from the Irish Association of Suicidology (IAS) on dates between November 2010 and September 2012.

Judge Patricia Ryan sentenced him to three years in prison but suspended it in full for four years.

In lieu of a sentence, Behan was ordered to complete 240 hours of community service.

Judge Ryan confirmed that all of the stolen money, totalling €36,540, has been returned to the association.

She pointed out that the association did not wish Behan to serve a custodial sentence.

The separated father-of-three has no previous convictions and has not come to garda attention since. He is now self-employed, providing a garden maintenance service in his local area.

The court heard that Behan, who had been on a salary of €70,000 used the organisation’s visa card for approximately 300 unauthorised transactions totalling €36,540.

He used the card to withdraw cash from ATMs but also for electronic payments.

The IAS is a registered charity with an annual budget for €150,000 and was set up to promote suicide awareness through publishing pamphlets and organising conferences.

The HSE is responsible for 60pc of its funding while the remainder is made up with donations from the public and fundraising.

The organisation’s public funding was initially suspended, pending the garda investigation. It has since been re-instated but not to the same extent and the ISA, while fully functioning again, has not re-appointed a CEO.

Behan took responsibility for the thefts.

Detective Sergeant Barry Walsh told Karen O’Connor BL, prosecuting, that Behan used the cash to pay for everyday living expenses and to supplement his income. He said many of the transactions relate to buying petrol or groceries and confirmed there was “no element of extravagance”.

Behan texted the organisation’s co-founder, consultant psychiatrist Dr John Connolly, on September 14, 2012 telling him that he had been living off the organisation for the previous two years.

Behan stated in the text that “everyone would be better off if I just disappeared”. He was in New York at the time having used the organisation’s card to book the flight and a one night stay in a hotel.

Det Sgt Walsh said Dr Connolly was concerned for Behan and tried calling him but his mobile phone was switched off.

Behan’s partner convinced him to return to Ireland and she escorted him to the doctor’s Mayo home where he made a full confession.

The gardaí launched an investigation and searched Behan’s home the following month. He later made a statement to gardaí saying he had initially started to use the card for emergencies but then started to pay for everyday living expenses with it.

“He initially intended to pay it back but it spiralled out of control and it became impossible to reimburse the organisation,” Det Sgt Walsh said.

Det Sgt Walsh agreed with Ronan Kennedy BL defending, that his client was always going to be caught and that the organisation’s auditors had been chasing Behan at the time to get the necessary financial data to complete the accounts.

He accepted that there had been “no large amounts of money” going through Behan’s personal accounts.

The detective further accepted that Behan had brought value to the organisation and his behaviour represented “a significant and public fall from grace”.

He agreed that the IAS had indicated that they would not like to see Behan go to prison and accepted that he was unlikely to come before the courts again.

Judge Ryan said Behan was very highly regarded by the association and had been fully cooperative with them and with the investigation.

She said the aggravating factors include the serious nature of the offence, the amount of monies stolen, the fact that it was a planned operation and the breach of trust involved.

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