A FORMER solicitor who stole more than €750,000 from clients' accounts has been jailed for over three years.
David O'Shea (44), who claimed that he was under threat from infamous lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano, used the money to buy cars and pay his credit card, as well as for property transactions and a horse trainer.
O'Shea was formerly a partner in O'Donovan's Solicitors, of Capel Street, Dublin.
He pleaded guilty to fraudulently accessing client accounts for sums ranging from €400 to over €250,000 between 2002 and 2008. O'Shea pleaded guilty to nine sample counts of fraud. The total amount was €779,000.
At one stage, the father of two told gardai he had been threatened by Mr Di Stefano, an international lawyer whose previous clients include the convicted drug dealer John Gilligan and the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Paul Carroll, prosecuting, told Dublin Criminal Circuit Court that the fraud was uncovered when an accountant for the firm found a number of anomalies in the payment scheme in 2008.
These related particularly to the account of the late John Price, who had died suddenly and without making a will.
A total of 21 cheques made out to members of Mr Price's family were found to have been stolen by O'Shea. He used one €79,000 cheque to cover a land transaction. Another, for €5,000, was used to buy a car.
The court heard that a number of smaller payments had been made to members of the Price family with the intention of "keeping them sweet".
Mr Carroll said O'Shea's wife had not known the source of money that was used to pay their joint Mastercard bill.
O'Shea also authorised a payment of €250,000 to a client, which was supposed to be used for a mortgage. However, the money was used for other purposes, with O'Shea's knowledge.
Judge Mary Ellen Ring said O'Shea's actions were a breach of trust and had caused deep upset, especially to the family of the late Mr Price.
She said that the firm of O'Donovans Solicitors had ceased trading in 2009 as a direct consequence.
The company had been unable to get professional indemnity insurance. Five people lost their jobs.
A statement by O'Shea, read to the court, stated: "Giovanni Di Stefano threatened me and in one phone call said that I had two lovely daughters ... I was aware he had dealt with (two individuals) known to the gardai in Limerick."
O'Shea, of Parkmore Drive, Terenure, Dublin, has no previous convictions. He was dismissed from O'Donovans in March 2008 when his thefts came to light. He was struck off the solicitor's roll in 2009 and is now taking tax exams.
Judge Ring imposed a sentence of four years, but suspended the last six months.