Saturday 24 August 2019

Married dad-of-three stole €1.7m from Credit Union with bogus loans to fund 'severe gambling addiction'

Married dad-of-three stole €1.7m from Credit Union with bogus loans to fund 'severe gambling addiction'
Married dad-of-three stole €1.7m from Credit Union with bogus loans to fund 'severe gambling addiction'

Sonya McLean

A credit controller who stole almost €1.7 million from Finglas Credit Union over a seven year period by taking out bogus loans and stealing cheques has been jailed for three years.

Paul O'Brien (51) took out additional fraudulent loans in order to make repayments on the pre-existing ones. The money was used to fund his severe gambling addiction and on three occasions to pay either his mortgage or credit card bills.

Garda Lisa Sheehan confirmed that the total amount taken from the credit union was €1,669, 696 in the form of 215 fraudulent loans and 13 stolen cheques, however because he used some of the cash to make repayments on the loans, the total net loss to the credit union was €453,300.

O'Brien of O'Valley Park Road, Finglas, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to sample charges which included nine counts of stealing various amounts of cash from Finglas Credit Union and one charge of falsifying a loan application in the amount of €17,000 on dates between February 26, 2005 and May 12, 2012.

The married father of three has no previous convictions and a number of documents were handed in to court to confirm that he had a severe gambling problem at the time.

His lawyers had argued that his addiction was so serious that he couldn't help himself from stealing the money.

He has since sought help for his addiction and has not come to any further garda attention. O'Brien has been out of work since his crimes came to light.

Judge Martin Nolan said O'Brien was a very good family man and a good member of society who is unlikely to re-offend. He said he has no other criminal record whatsoever but that the extent of his offending meant he must be jailed.

“He is a very good man who went completely astray,” Judge Nolan said. He said O'Brien's position of trust and his abuse of that power were aggravating factors.

Gda Sheehan told Fergal Foley BL, prosecuting, that O'Brien worked as an official with Finglas Credit Union as a credit controller during the time of the offences.

She said it was noted by staff during an audit in May 2012 that many of the existing loans exceeded the ratio of 4:1 between loan amount and shares held.

The loans were investigated and it was noted that O'Brien had made repayments on them.

Gardaí were contacted and O'Brien was nominated as a suspect. A team of forensic accountants were called in two months later to further investigate the fraud.

Gda Sheehan said O'Brien's home was searched on May 14, 2012 and he later came voluntarily to the garda station where he was interviewed 22 times. He made a full confession and was charged in January 2013.

O'Brien said he had a gambling addiction and all the money he had taken was used to fund that addiction.

Gardaí accepted his explanation and Gda Sheehan said “there was nothing to suggest that he made any personal gain”.

“He was upfront and honest from the get go. He aided the investigation,” Gda Sheehan said before she accepted his admissions “saved several weeks of a trial”.

Gda Sheehan agreed with Luigi Rea BL, defending that his client's gambling problem had “brought him to a dark place in his life”.

She accepted that his wife and children stood by O'Brien, although his wife knew nothing about the thefts and was appalled by his behaviour.

Mr Rea handed in a number of documents into court including letters from Gamblers Anonymous and from people in his locality. Several authors of these letters were in court to support O'Brien.

A psychological report concluded that O'Brien's gambling addiction has been in remission for three years.

Mr Rea told Judge Nolan that his client's addiction “got a grip of him”. He accepted that he should have been “man enough to deal with it” and should never have stolen the money.

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