Wednesday 22 November 2017

'I just went on a high' - Mum who went on €25k spending spree on 'stupid things' after banking blunder avoids jail

Margaret McDonnell pleaded guilty to 13 counts of theft.
Margaret McDonnell pleaded guilty to 13 counts of theft.

Declan Brennan

A single mother who went on a “massive spending spree” after a bank accidentally deposited €51,000 into her bank account has received a suspended jail sentence.

Margaret McDonnell (23) spent the money on items for her two children including bedclothes, clothes and shoes, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard.

For two weeks McDonnell ate out every night, brought her friends and family out for dinner and bought gifts including two crystal vases and a “crystal mushroom lamp”.

Referring to the money lodged in McDonnell's account, Judge Cormac Quinn commented, “if it's too good to be true it is because it is too good to be true”.

Oisin Clarke BL, defending, said it was a case of the goose laying golden eggs and McDonnell spending the money before it stopped.

McDonnell of Rathvilly Park, Finglas, Dublin pleaded guilty to 13 counts of theft of cash from Bank of Ireland on dates between March 7 and 16, 2013. Between large ATM withdrawals and money spent in shops and restaurants, a total of €24,946 was taken.

Last January Judge Quinn adjourned the case to give time to the Probation Service to assess McDonnell's suitability for community service.

Today he noted that the Probation Service had put her at a low risk of re-offending.

He suspended a sentence of 18 months on condition that she pay €1,000 back to the bank within 18 months. He also ordered her to carry out 150 hours of community service.

Detective Garda Karl Smith told the court that in March 2013 a Bank of Ireland customer went into the branch in Finglas to get details to allow the transfer of €51,808 into his account from a foreign bank account.

He was given an IBAN number but when the money did not later show up in his bank account he contacted the bank again. It was then discovered he had been incorrectly given the details of McDonnell's account.

The €51,808 had dropped into her account on March 6. The following day she withdrew €5,000. Over the next nine days she spent large amounts in Dunnes Stores, Tesco, Heatons, Centra, Lifestyle Sports, Shoe Rack and New Look.

On discovering its mistake the bank took back the €26,862 remaining from the original deposit. They also wrote to McDonnell asking her to repay the rest but she ignored the letter.

After her arrest she accepted full responsibility for spending the money. She told gardai that she thought the money was hers if it was in her bank account.

“I just went on a high. It was such a lot of money. It was in my account so as far as I was concerned it was mine,” she said. She said she spent the money “on everything and anything, stupid things”.

Asked if she was bothered by the thefts she told gardaí: “If only you knew me, you would know I was bothered by this. Any young girl on social welfare like me would have done what I did.”

She said she ignored the letter from the bank because she was scared and realised she had done something wrong.

Mr Clarke said that his client had never before had disposal income to spend and had never been able to buy gifts for friends or family. On March 7 she spent €3,844 in Tierney's gift shop in Blanchardstown after buying two crystal vases and a crystal lamp.

Judge Quinn asked how she managed to spend so much in gift shops that sell “ordinary middle of the road type gifts”.

Counsel said McDonnell had never been in trouble before and had always tried to live her life in an upright fashion. Det Gda Smith it was highly unlikely she would re-offend.

He said that looking back on her younger self she could not believe how stupid she was. He said she had “flittered the money away” and had nothing to show for it all.

Mr Clarke said McDonnell was in receipt of €250 lone parent allowance each week and could only afford to pay €15 out of this to make up the stolen money.

Judge Quinn said that the offences were not pre-planned and the money was spent on mundane things.

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