A POST office manager who stole €1.75m from his employer to fund his gambling habit has been jailed for three years.
Tony O'Reilly, of 10 Sandhills, Hacketstown Road, Carlow, stole the money from his post office over a 14-month period.
And bookmakers Paddy Power valued his custom so much they took him on lavish, all-expense paid trips to the Europa Cup Final in the Aviva Stadium and the Irish Derby at the Curragh.
Wexford Circuit Court heard that O'Reilly told gardai his stealing spree began with bags of coins, replacing €2 bags with 2c bags.
By April 2010 O'Reilly had stolen around €8,000.
But by the end of the year this amount rose to €280,000.
To cover himself during an audit, he changed a receipt for €97,538 to €397,538.
The following six months he lost the run of himself, the court heard, and even wagered €40,000 on the outcome of a match involving the Norwegian Ladies soccer team.
O'Reilly also used pliers to remove €50 notes from €50,000 bundles.
Mr O'Reilly, who had previously admitted six offences of theft at Gorey Post Office, appeared before Judge Pauline Codd at Wexford Circuit Criminal Court for sentencing.
He also admitted six charges of falsifying An Post lodgment dockets for accounting purposes between December 6, 2010, and June 29, 2011.
The thefts only came to light in June of last year during an audit at Gorey.
And it was on his way to work on the morning the fraud was discovered that O'Reilly informed an An Post employee by text that he had crashed his car.
He later disappeared and could not be traced.
A major search operation followed, lasting around 11 days.
He later got in touch with his family via an internet connection in Northern Ireland.
O'Reilly had left his home at 6.30am to drive to the post office in Gorey.
His wife Lorraine became worried when she received a text message from his work mobile saying he had been involved in a car crash near Tullow.
Auditors were present in Gorey garda station throughout that Wednesday and they also received a text message from O'Reilly stating that he had crashed in Tullow.
O'Reilly joined An Post in 1998 and worked for a time in Tallaght before returning to Carlow.
In 2009 he was appointed manager in Gorey.
Patrick McCarthy, defending, told the court that his client did not benefit at all from the money and he still lived in a modest house.
Mr McCarthy also told the court that bookmakers Paddy Power rated O'Reilly as a highly valued customer, taking him on all-expense paid trips to the Europa League Final in the Aviva Stadium, to the Irish Derby, and to Punchestown.
Mr McCarthy also said that alarm bells should have gone off with the bookmakers.
The court heard that O'Reilly had since given up gambling completely, and had attended courses at addiction centres.
He now wants to become an addiction counsellor.
Sentencing, Judge Codd said O'Reilly's behaviour had the pattern of somebody out of control and – as he admitted himself – the accused had lost the run of himself.
She said he had engaged in a serious breach of trust over a significant period of time and his theft was deliberate and systematic.
She also said that he had disappeared for 11 days after the theft was discovered.
Judge Codd sentenced him to four years in prison but suspended the final year on condition that when he comes out of prison he attends further counselling.
Members of O'Reilly's family were in the court and his wife broke down in tears when the sentence was handed down.