Michael A O’Leary & Associates Limited and Sinead O’Leary have had their licences revoked, are prohibited from reapplying and have been directed to pay nearly €200,000
The High Court has struck off and imposed financial penalties totalling €175,000 on a well-known Wexford property services company and its employee found to have engaged in improper conduct.
The court heard that Wexford-based Sinead O’Leary and Michael A. O’Leary & Associates Ltd were found by investigators to have engaged in activities including Ms O’Leary moving over €38,000 of clients’ money into a personal bank account without permission.
The sanctions were sought following investigations launched by the Property Services Regulatory Authority PSRA, the body that regulates service providers including auctioneers, estate agents, letting agents and property management agents.
It operates the Property Services Register, where the respondents had been registered as licence holders, allowing them to provide property services in this jurisdiction.
When the matter came before the President of the High Court Ms Justice Mary Irvine last week, the judge said she was satisfied to confirm the sanctions sought.
These include the revocation of both Ms O’Leary and the company’s existing licences and that they be permanently be prohibited from applying for new ones.
The company was fined €100,000 as a financial penalty for failing to monitor Ms O’Leary when she was misappropriating OMC’s monies.
Ms O’Leary was directed by the court to pay €25,000 by way of financial penalty plus an additional €50,000 into the PRSA’s compensation fund.
The PRSA also sought €20,000 in costs against the respondents. The application to confirm the sanctions was not opposed.
The PRSA sought to have the sanctions imposed after it determined that the company and Ms O’Leary had engaged in improper conduct, and had breached the trust of a client.
The court heard that the PSRA commenced a series of investigations following a complaint made by Windmill Heights Management Ltd (OMC), a firm linked to a Wexford property development that the respondents had provided various services for.
OMC made allegations including that Ms O’Leary had without OMC’s approval disbursed €38,000 from its accounts.
It was also alleged that Ms O’Leary had issued a fraudulent invoice for €3,000 to justify the withdrawal of monies from OMC’s account.
The misappropriated monies were transferred by Ms O’Leary into a bank account in the names of both her and her husband, it was claimed.
It was also claimed that the respondents allowed OMC’s public liability insurance to lapse, and there was no cover in place over the property for a period of two years.
Arising out of the investigation process, certain findings were made by the PRSA against Ms O’Leary and the company which merited the imposition of major sanctions.
The PRSA found that Ms O’Leary of Cornwall, Kilurin, Enniscorthy, and the company, with an address at South Main Street, Wexford had engaged in improper conduct.
A claim against the PRSA’s compensation fund was also made arising out of the respondent’s actions, the court also heard.
When approving the sanctions Ms Justice Irvine said she could see no reason why the court should not impose the sanctions sought by the PRSA.
Given the circumstances outlined to the court the Judge added that the sanctions were proportionate and appropriate given the misconduct involved.
All the appropriate mitigating and aggravating circumstances, including Ms O’Leary’s personal financial situation, had been taken in account by the PRSA when arriving at the recommended sanctions, the President added.
No excuses were given for the respondents’ actions, where Ms O’Leary gained financially, and the misappropriated monies had not been repaid by the time the PRSA arrived at its decision, the court hear.
Speaking after the court’s decision, the Chairperson of the PSRA, Mr Michael Quinlan welcomed the confirmation of the sanction. “Today’s court confirmation to prohibit an estate agent and its employee permanently from providing property services, demonstrates the effectiveness of regulation of the property services sector. Such conduct and actions by an estate agent against its client will not be tolerated in the sector and will be investigated by the Authority.”
Chief Executive of the PRSA, Ms Maeve Hogan stated that “one of the corner stones of the functions of the Authority is consumer protection.
“Today’s sanction confirmation assures consumers that agents who engage in such actions against their clients will be investigated and appropriately dealt with by the Authority.”