A man who stole €102,000 from the company he worked for to give to men he met in online chat rooms has been jailed for one year.
Billy Mooney took sums ranging from €2,000 to €19,800 over a two year period from The Cope stores in Co Donegal between dates on 2014 and 2016.
The 52-year-old had pleaded guilty to 18 charges of fraud and one of false accounting at Letterkenny Circuit Court.
Mooney stole the cash in a complex fraud at the company’s Annagry outlet in West Donegal.
But amazingly Gardai told the court that they did not believe the accused man spent a cent of the money on himself.
Instead he wired the money by Western Union Transfer to men he met online who claimed they had lost their jobs and whose families had become ill.
However, management at the company, known officially as the Templecrone Cooperative Agricultural Society Ltd (The Cope), were alerted to the fraud when Mooney sent texts to another employee.
Mooney, of St Peter’s Terrace, Dungloe told the other employee that he was in trouble having become caught up in a scam and was in debt to the tune of up to €80,000 and was having to bother the money to cover himself.
Detective Garda John Gallagher, from Milford Garda Station, investigated the fraud at the store which has around 110 employees.
He said CEO of the company, Mark Sharkey, had contacted Gardai believing there had been a major fraud at the outlet.
Garda Gallagher explained how Mooney took the money which was due to be deposited into an ATM machine at the Annagry branch of The Cope where he was located.
However, through a series of cover-ups, Mooney was able to extract various sums of money but made it appear as if they were still on the company books.
The court heard how Mooney stole various lump sums of money on separate occasions between July 1st, 2014 and January 1st, 2016 of between €2,000 and €19,800.
In a victim impact statement, company boss Mark Sharkey said the theft had put the company under severe pressure and how they had struggled to survive.
He said a number of key employees had left the company because of the stress and the shock of the ongoing situation at the company and that they also had to spend €16,000 to have a forensic accountant examine their accounts.
He said that during and since the theft, Mooney had never apologised to the company or his fellow workers and that he was out sick for a number of months after the theft came to light.
Barrister for the accused, Mr John McLaughlin said that he got involved in these chatrooms with other men and that in his mind he was in a romantic relationship.
“He was so caught up in this scam that it overrode everything else in his mind.
“When interviewed he used phrases like he was ‘borrowing money’. Not to excuse what he did but it was his twisted belief he was borrowing and not stealing.
“There are no suggestions that he retained these monies himself,” he said.
Detective Garda John Gallagher replied, “I don’t believe that he has gained financially.”
However, the court was told that none of the missing money has since been paid back to the company.
Passing sentence Judge John Aylmer said the fraud had come while the company was experiencing difficult trading circumstances and that it went on for a long time.
He said Mooney had worked at The Cope for almost 20 years and had been a trusted employee and there had been a serious breach of that trust.
However, he added that Detective Gallagher gave evidence that Mooney did not benefit financially from the scam.
He added that he accep[ted that Mooney was remorseful and ashamed of his actions and that he came to court with no previous convictions.
“He was a vulnerable person and a soft target for these scams,” said Judge Aylmer.
He placed the charges in the mid-range of such offences and said each charge merited a sentence of four years.
However, because of his early plea and his previous good record, he would reduce that sentence to three years in prison.
Because Mooney was a first time offender, Judge Aylmer had to consider if he could suspend the entire sentence.
However, he said he took these offenses were of such seriousness that he had to impose some custodial senetnce and he suspended the final two years of the three year sentence meaning Mooney will serve one year in jail.