Thursday 20 June 2019

US jury orders Sean Dunne's wife to pay €18m to creditors

Seán Dunne and estranged wife Gayle Killilea are defendants in the civil trial
Seán Dunne and estranged wife Gayle Killilea are defendants in the civil trial

Shawn Pogatchnik

A US jury has ordered the wife of bankrupt developer Sean Dunne to pay more than €18m to a bankruptcy trustee after finding that cash and assets were transferred out of creditors' reach as Dunne’s property empire unravelled a decade ago.

Today’s verdict at US District Court in New Haven, Connecticut, follows a five-week civil trial in which lawyers for bankruptcy trustee Richard Coan sought to compel Gayle Killilea to pay tens of millions in euro that she had received from her husband in cash, property and other assets.

Those transfers preceded Mr Dunne’s application for bankruptcy protection.

The 10-member jury ordered Ms Killilea to repay the €14m proceeds from the 2016 sale of the couple’s Ballsbridge property, Walford, as well as more than €3m given by Mr Dunne to his wife via Swiss bank accounts in 2008, and approximately €1m from other transfers of cash, property and other assets in Ireland.

The senior counsel for Mr Coan’s legal team, Thomas H Curran, said he was "obviously very happy with the result".

He said the four-day length of the jury’s deliberations indicated that their conclusions had been carefully considered.

"We are very comfortable this award will hold up to any appeal," he said in an interview.

Lawyers for Mr Dunne declined immediate comment to reporters outside the New Haven courtroom.

In a statement, Ms Killilea’s legal team called it "a mixed result" - citing potential grounds for appeal and noting that jurors made "no finding of any misconduct or fraud by Gayle Killilea".

The statement said plaintiffs representing a panoply of creditors had sought up to €100m – a headline figure not confirmed by Coan’s legal team - but Ms Killilea had been vindicated in claiming sole ownership of many assets transferred by her husband in advance of his bankruptcy applications.

These transfers included his share of a Switzerland property, a US property investment portfolio, and loans taken out against Mr Dunne’s ownership of a South African resort.

Mr Curran said US District Judge Jeffrey Meyer had reserved his own judgment on these counts and other documented transfers, and may yet order additional reliefs for Mr Dunne’s creditors to be imposed.

Ms Killilea’s legal team described the €100m figure as "wildly exaggerated from day one," and said the jury may been "confused" on when she received ownership of Walford, which had been purchased in 2005 for €58m.

"We believe the jury was confused because they found that Walford was transferred by Sean Dunne to Gayle Killilea on March 29, 2013, when it had been owned by Gayle Killilea since at least October 2006," the statement said.

"Defendants may address the legal issues surrounding Walford and other aspects of the verdict with Judge Meyer and, if necessary, may pursue an appeal."

During the trial, lawyers for the couple said Mr Dunne had transferred assets into his wife’s name out of love for her and their children, not to thwart creditors’ demands for repayment.

Mr Curran said the judge and both sides’ lawyers expected to convene within the coming week to discuss Judge Meyer’s own consideration of whether other transfers from Mr Dunne to Ms Killilea constituted "unjust enrichment".

"Although the jury may not have found that certain transfers were fraudulently conveyed, the judge still can find that these assets were transferred in a manner whereby somebody was unjustly enriched," he said.

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