Suicide awareness charity boss to be sentenced for stealing €36k from organisation
A former chief executive of a suicide awareness charity will be sentenced next month for stealing over €36,000 from the organisation.
Declan Behan (42) of Boyne View, Slaney, Co Meath, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to six sample charges of theft from the Irish Association of Suicidology (IAS) on dates between November 2010 and September 2012.
The separated father of three children has no previous convictions and has not come to garda attention since. He is now self employed providing a garden maintenance service in his local area.
The court heard that Behan, who had been on a salary of €70,000 per year, used the organisation’s visa card for approximately 300 unauthorised transactions totalling €36,540.
He used the card to withdraw cash from ATMs but also for electronic payments.
The IAS is a registered charity with an annual budget for €150,000 and was set up to promote suicide awareness through publications and organising conferences.
The HSE is responsible for 60 percent of its funding while the remainder is made up with donations from the public and fundraising.
The organisation’s public funding was initially suspended, pending the garda investigation. It has since been re-instated but not to the same extent and the ISA, while fully functioning again, has not re-appointed a CEO.
Behan took responsibility for the thefts and indicated the he would reimburse the IAS. He has since done so by handing over €26,500 and a further €9,000 today.
Detective Sergeant Barry Walsh told Karen O’Connor BL, prosecuting, that Behan used the cash to pay for everyday living expenses and to supplement his income. He said many of the transactions relate to buying petrol or groceries and confirmed there was “no element of extravagance”.
Behan texted the organisation’s co-founder, consultant psychiatrist Dr John Connolly, on September 14, 2012 telling him that he had been living off the organisation for the previous two years.
Behan stated in the text that “everyone would be better off if I just disappeared”. He was in New York at the time having used the organisation’s card to book the flight and a one night stay in a hotel.
Det Sgt Walsh said Dr Connolly was concerned for Behan and tried calling him but his mobile phone was switched off.
Behan’s partner convinced him to return to Ireland and she escorted him to the doctor’s Mayo home where he made a full confession.
The gardaí launched an investigation and searched Behan’s home the following month. He later made a statement to gardaí saying he had initially started to use the card for emergencies but then started to pay for everyday living expenses with it.
“He initially intended to pay it back but it spiralled out of control and it became impossible to reimburse the organisation,” Det Sgt Walsh said.
Det Sgt Walsh agreed with Ronan Kennedy BL defending, that his client was always going to be caught and that the organisation’s auditors had been chasing Behan at the time to get the necessary financial data to complete the accounts.
He accepted that there had been “no large amounts of money” going through Behan’s personal accounts.
The detective further accepted that Behan had brought value to the organisation and his behaviour represented “a significant and public fall from grace”.
He agreed that the IAS had indicated that they would not like to see Behan go to prison and accepted that he was unlikely to come before the courts again.
Judge Patricia Ryan adjourned the case to next month for sentence. She remanded Behan on continuing bail and ordered a report from the Probation and Welfare Service for that date.
Mr Kennedy said his client’s partner, her family and members from his own family were in court to support him and had written testimonials on his behalf.
A number of references were also handed in from Behan’s local parish priest, his children’s school and other people from his area outlining his positive contribution to the community.
Counsel said it was an understatement to say his client was ashamed of his behaviour and wished to offer his apologies to the court.
“He let his employer, society, his family and friends and himself down and he sincerely wishes he could turn back the clock,” Mr Kennedy told Judge Ryan.