Monday 26 February 2018

'Gambling addict' accountant took more than €400k from former clients

The Central Criminal Court
The Central Criminal Court

Liz Farsaci

A chartered accountant struggling with a gambling addition has been jailed for two years for taking more than €400,000 from former clients.

Stephen Cheung (39) turned himself in to gardaí in January 2014 after he realised he had to deal with matters. He began playing poker socially in 2004, and from there developed a severe gambling addiction.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that Cheung, a father of four, worked hard to become an accountant, specialising in insolvency since 2002. In 2009, he set up Cheung Consulting, offering assistance to companies going into liquidation.

Cheung met with gardaí on January 31, 2014 and confessed to taking funds from a number of clients to whom he had been appointed as liquidator.

Cheung of Herberton Drive, Rialto, Dublin pleaded guilty to 18 offences involving the theft of an amount totalling €454,309 from nearly 20 clients between 2009 and 2013.

Detective Garda Stephen Niland of the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation told Elva Duffy BL, prosecuting, that Cheung co-operated fully with the investigation. He has no previous convictions.

Tara Burns SC, defending, said Cheung was extremely remorseful for his actions, which had had a hugely negative affect on his young family.

His clients didn't know anything about the thefts but some had raised concerns and he was beginning to feel under pressure. He went to a GP and said he felt suicidal and then went to gardai, the court heard.

He has three young boys with his partner and also acts as a stepfather to her teenage daughter.

His partner did payroll work for a large company, but this was low paid work and the family had suffered financially on foot of Cheung’s actions

A number of statements from colleagues, friends and family members were admitted into evidence, describing Cheung as a kind person and attentive father.

His current employers said he was as “hard working” and “dependable” and that they were “so glad to have the opportunity to work with him”.

A statement from Cheung’s mother described him as a soft-natured individual who would help anyone.

Ms Burns said Cheung had worked hard to understand and overcome his gambling addiction.

He attended Gambler Anonymous meetings two to three times per week, gave talks at schools on addiction and had set up his own support group.

Judge Patrick McCartan said it took considerable courage on the part of Cheung to inform gardaí of his actions in advance of their knowledge.

However, he said that he had to hand down a prison sentence because of the serious nature of Mr. Cheung's wrongdoing. He said that, despite the fact that the companies had gone into liquidation, Mr. Cheung had taken away money from beneficiaries and that “people are at a significant loss”.

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