Sunday 25 February 2018

Former solicitor who admitted stealing €2.8 million in client funds 'driven by Christian values', court hears

Ruairi O Ceallaigh Photo: Courtpix
Ruairi O Ceallaigh Photo: Courtpix

Dearbhail McDonald, Legal Editor

A FORMER solicitor "driven by Christian values" who admitted stealing €2.8 million in client funds from his family's law firm will find out later this month what sentence he will serve.

Ruairi O Ceallaigh, with an address at Collegeland, Summerhill, Co Meath - who used the funds to buy investment properties, pay mortgages and to trade Contracts for Difference (CFDs) with stockbrokers - had hoped to repay the monies before his clients noticed they were missing.

Sentencing was adjourned by Circuit Court Judge Mary Ellen Ring this afternoon in light of " a significant amount" of character statements - more than 20 in all - tendered in support of Mr O'Ceallaigh who was described as "a genuine Christian".

Judge Ring will sentence Mr O'Ceallaigh on July 18th next.

This afternoon Dublin's Circuit Criminal Court heard that €2.3m of the overall €2.8m is still unpaid.

The well known charity worker went forward to trial on signed guilty pleas - thereby avoiding a lengthy trial - has repaid €38k to the Archdiocese of Dublin who lost some €1.5m as a result of Mr O'Ceallaigh's thefts.

Mr O'Ceallaigh, who the court heard is "a man who all his life involved himself in work for the Church"  has also repaid € 33k to the Compensation Fund of the Law Society, the ruling body for solicitors.

Since he was charged, Mr O'Ceallaigh has completed a Masters Degree in human rights law as he wants to work in the future for a non governmental organisation (NGO).

All of the victims, apart from the Catholic Church, have been repaid in full by the Law Society's Compensation Fund.

Sentencing judge Mary Ellen Ring heard that the Archdiocese of Dublin is still at a loss of €750,000 as there is a €700,000 cap on the amount the fund can pay to an individual client.

Judge Ring heard that the case of the former solicitor was "a very tragic story" and a "massive personal tragedy" for him as Mr O'Ceallaigh grew up in a family, led by his father Sean O'Ceallaigh Snr, who had set up a very respectable legal practice in North Dublin.

Mr O'Ceallaigh was described as "a man of contradictions" by defence barrister Padraig Dwyer SC who said that "multiple acts of kindness" had been carried out by the former lawyer over the course of decades.

Mr Dwyer said Mr O'Ceallaigh, who was accompanied to court by friends and family, was "a true Christian" and someone who was  in the "exceptional category" of offenders.

The barrister said Mr O'Ceallaigh had devoted much of his personal and professional life - donating his time, energy and money - to protect the rights of disadvantaged people and to advance the cause of those who had little, including sick children.

Mr Dwyer said his client was a man "filled with very positive qualities" who touched the lives of many people in a very positive way.

MR Dwyer appealed for a lenient punishment  - including the possibility of a non custodial sentence - stating that Mr O'Ceallaigh had "suffered massively" and has "a huge amount to give".

More than 20 character statements supporting Mr O'Ceallaigh, including from several university professors, were submitted to the Judge Ring.

And Judge Ring heard testimony from those who had worked with him including the UK based Lawyers Christian Fellowship (LCF), an organisation with more than 2,000 Christian lawyers that - according to its website - "exists to influence lawyers and law for Christ"

The Catholic Church was a major client of the firm and Mr O'Ceallaigh held a personal meeting with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in 2010 to apologise, said Mr Dwyer.

Judge Ring heard that Mr O'Ceallaigh is currently in receipt of "a small salary from the Salvation Army" salary and an autism school set up by his wife Kate O'Ceallaigh.

Ruairi O Ceallaigh was a partner in the highly respected Dublin law firm Sean O Ceallaigh & Co Solicitors with his brother Cormac O Ceallaigh.

There is no suggestion that Cormac O Ceallaigh or Sean O Ceallaigh - their father who founded the firm in 1958 - were involved in any wrongdoing at the firm.

Judge Ring, who said the good names of Sean O'Ceallaigh Snr and Cormac O'Ceallaigh "are intact" heard that Sean O'Ceallaigh Snr had offered to sell his family home in a bid to repay the Law Society.

Cormac O'Ceallaigh has set up a new firm, the Circuit Court heard.

The theft was uncovered a part of a routine  investigation into solicitors' practices by the Law Society, the ruling body for solicitors in March 2010.

The former solicitor later told gardai that he had hoped to repay all the monies if his shares "took off" in order to right the wrong he had done.

Giving evidence this afternoon, Det Sgt Paschal Walsh of the Garda Fraud Bureau agreed that Mr O'Ceallaigh insisted he did not use the funds for personal lifestyle expense.

Det Sgt Walsh agreed Mr O'Ceallaigh - who the court heard is "driven by Christian values"  - had shown huge remorse for his crimes and more so because of the impact on his family rather than himself.

Mr O'Ceallaigh was charged with dishonestly appropriating seven aggregate sums of money between €75,000 and €1.5m, the property of Sean O Ceallaigh and Co on dates between 2006 and 2009.

He has already been struck off the solicitors roll.

The charges relate to offences contrary to Section 4 of the Theft and Fraud Offences Act and the individual sums of cash range from €75,000 to  €1.55 million.

Online Editors

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News