Courts

Sunday 13 July 2014

Solicitor who stole €130,000 from his clients is jailed for two years

Conor Gallagher

Published 20/12/2012|05:00

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A SOLICITOR has been jailed for two years for stealing €130,000 from his clients.

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Niall Colfer (54), who has since been struck off, stole the stamp duty paid by clients while helping them to buy property.

He also stole one third of a IR£150,000 compensation claim awarded to one of his clients.

Colfer acted as a solicitor for 20 years and was running the family practice when the offences came to light.

He was struck off as a solicitor by the High Court in 2008 after it emerged he had stolen up to €1.6m of his clients' money.

His defence counsel said he had since had to sell his two homes and an investment property to raise compensation and was now living in a "fairly ordinary house".

Colfer, of Rathdown Park, Greystones, Co Wicklow, pleaded guilty to two counts of fraudulent conversion and two counts of theft at his offices in Donaghmede Shopping Centre between 1999 and 2004.

At Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, he was jailed for taking €130,000 from four clients. He had originally taken a trial date, but entered a guilty plea early this year.

Judge Martin Nolan said the thefts were "deeply reprehensible" and that the most serious issue was the breach of trust involved.

"Clients are entitled to expect an honest solicitor," he commented.

"Unfortunately these clients didn't find an honest solicitor."

Judge Nolan said there were several strong factors in Colfer's favour but that he must pay a "heavy price" for letting down himself, his clients and his profession.

"No man can escape a custodial sentence when it involves such a breach of trust," the judge added.

Regulations

The thefts were uncovered when Colfer went on holiday in October 2004 and a locum solicitor filled in for him. This solicitor noticed the client account had a large deficit, which is against regulations for solicitors.

When she alerted the Law Society and gardai, several cases of suspected theft and fraud came to light.

Colfer was arrested and claimed he couldn't remember several of the transactions involved.

He denied ever "personally" taking money and said he had not committed any crimes.

Defence counsel Aileen Donnelly said he had worked all his life in his father's practice and took over after he retired.

She said he was soon "in over his head" and kept trying to move money around to keep afloat.

She said that in these four cases his negligence strayed into criminality.

She said he has attempted suicide because of the offences and went on to seek treatment in St John of God's.

Irish Independent

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