Struck off solicitor jailed for stealing €2.8 m from clients

Ruairi O’Ceallaigh sentenced to three years in prison after admitting theft from client accounts

Ruairí Ó Ceallaigh: Former solicitor jailed for three years for theft and fraud from his family law firm. Pic: Courtpix

Ruairí Ó Ceallaigh: Former solicitor jailed for three years for theft and fraud from his family law firm. Pic: Courtpix

Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 14:32

A struck off solicitor described as a “devout Christian” has been jailed for three years for stealing €2.8 million from former client accounts to fund investment properties and buy on the stock market.

Judge Mary Ellen Ring said that Ruairi O’Ceallaigh (42) used the money for the “ultimate in gambling” and had “gambled on the gamble”.

O’Ceallaigh of Collegeland, Summerhill, Co Meath pleaded guilty to seven counts of dishonestly appropriating a total of €2,816,566, the property of Sean O’Ceallaigh and Company and having designated these sums as credited to seven named clients’ accounts on dates between July 2006 and May 2010.

O’Ceallaigh told gardai he took the money from the accounts with the intention of paying it back. He had used it to buy shares, including Contracts for Difference, in an attempt to “claw back” some losses made elsewhere.

“I was under the false belief I could make the money back on the stock market and make right the wrong that I had done,” he told investigators.

Detective Sergeant Paschal Walsh told Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that one theft involved €1,551,366 from a client who had left his estate to the Archdiocese of Dublin. O’Ceallaigh used this to invest in property, pay for renovations and stamp duties and to clear a mortgage on another property.

Judge Ring said O’Ceallaigh had committed the most fundamental breach of trust as a solicitor. She commented had he been convicted at trial, a sentence of eight years would not have been excessive.

She said it was difficult to reconcile the man outlined in testimonials and letters handed to her with the man who had the forethought to make multiple withdrawals and transfers from client accounts in the family firm.

She accepted that O’Ceallaigh’s brother and father had no knowledge of his offending and that his brother has since managed to set up a new business.

The judge said it was to O’Ceallaigh’s credit that he had entered early guilty pleas and co-operated with gardai.

She imposed a five year sentence backdated to earlier this month and suspended the final two years.

Det Sgt Walsh said the individual sums of misappropriated cash ranged from €75,000 to €1.55 million. The Law Society has compensated six of the victims but did not cover the €750,000 loss to the Dublin Archdiocese because the compensation fund pays a maximum of €700,000.

Since the thefts came to light O’Ceallaigh has paid €71,000 over to The Law Society and to the Dublin Archdiocese. The net total loss is just over €2,325,000.

Padraig Dwyer SC, defending, submitted that his client is a “man of contradictions” as he has spent much of his life devoting free time, energy and legal services to advancing the cause of people who have nothing.

He said O’Ceallaigh has volunteered with local charities and those overseas in developing countries.

Mr Dwyer said there was “nothing about this man to suggest he’s anything but a Christian in the true sense of the word.”

Det Sgt Walsh agreed that O’Ceallaigh was “driven by Christian values” and was deeply remorseful. He also accepted that O’Ceallaigh did not have a lavish lifestyle and the money he stole was used to pay off financial institutions which had put him under pressure to repay other loans.