Friday 18 October 2019

Woman jailed for stealing €400k from Credit Union accounts

'Hard working' credit union officer pilfered ever-increasing amounts over a seven year period

A former senior official with a North Cork credit union has been jailed for two years after she pleaded guilty to stealing over €400,000 from the accounts of deceased members of the credit union over a seven year period.

Moira Coughlan (55), a native of Mitchelstown but living at the Stables, Mineville, Knocknahorgan, Sallybrook, Glanmire, had admitted a total of 592 offences relating to the theft of €407,441.94 from some 29 accounts at the Synergy Credit Union in Fermoy.

Coughlan pleaded guilty to 251 counts of theft, 300 counts of unlawful use of a computer and 41 counts of false accounting between 2009 and September 2016.

Det Sgt James O'Shea told a previous sitting of Cork Circuit Criminal Court how Coughlan was the insurance officer at the Synergy Credit Union and in that role she had control over the accounts of some 25 deceased members while she also had control over four family accounts. Between 2009 and September 2016, Coughlan moved €1.5 million in unlawful transactions on the family accounts and the accounts of deceased members when they were still in probate and before money was paid out from them in order to cover up the thefts, he said.

The Financial Officer at Synergy, Marvin Board, noticed some unusual activity where money was being withdrawn from one deceased member's account and, when he investigated it, he traced the activity back to Coughlan. Synergy then contacted auditors Grant Thornton and notified gardai.

Det Sgt O'Shea said that gardai arrested Coughlan for questioning about the thefts and fraud on September 19, 2017 and she made immediate admissions and co-operated fully before pleading guilty to the offences at the first available opportunity.

He said Coughlan told gardai that she simply was using the money for day to day living and they could find no sign of obvious wealth, even though she stole €6,000 in 2009, €55,000 in 2010, €61,000 in 2011, €78,500 in 2012, €72,000 in 2013, €46,000 in 2014 and €107,000 in 2016.

He said Synergy's insurance policy meant the credit union was able to reimburse all 29 account holders but the credit union was still at a loss of some €207,000 due to the cost of the auditor's investigation into Coughlan's activity.

Det Sgt O'Shea agreed with Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin that while the prosecution had strong evidence against Coughlan, she had, by her guilty plea, spared the state a lengthy and complex trial. He also confirmed that Coughlan had no previous convictions.

Defence barrister Patrick O'Riordan BL told the court that Coughlan's marriage had broken down and she was now separated as a result of her criminal behaviour while a psychiatric report showed that she had suicidal thoughts and had received psychiatric treatment.

He said that that there was an element of robbing Peter to pay Paul to her offending and she had explained she was spending the money to get positive attention from others, and there were several who were willing to benefit from her largesse and the money was now dissipated.

Mr O'Riordan said Coughlan was set to receive in excess of €200,000 for the sale of her house, which will be furnished as compensation in the case but this will, in effect, leave her "destitute" as he pleaded for leniency.

Judge Ó Donnabháin said Coughlan had "plundered" accounts, including those of individuals who had died, leaving their estates in probate but, he noted, that nobody, including Coughlan herself, seemed to know where the monies went and there was "no bundle of money" awaiting her. He also noted the several mitigating factors.

However, imposing sentence, the judge said the case lacked any exceptional factors which would have allowed him impose a suspended sentence, and he sentenced Coughlan to two years in jail, backdated to November when she first went into custody.