Former solicitor jailed for stealing over €750,000 from clients' accounts

Wed, Jun 13, 2012, 01:00

A FORMER solicitor who stole more than €750,000 from clients’ accounts has been jailed for three and a half years.

David O’Shea (44), who claimed he was under threat from infamous lawyer Giovanni di Stefano, used the money to buy cars, clear his credit card, finance property transactions and pay a horse trainer.

O’Shea of Parkmore Drive, Terenure, was formerly a partner in O’Donovan Solicitors, Capel Street, Dublin. He pleaded guilty to fraudulently accessing client accounts for sums ranging from €400 to more than €250,000 between 2002 and 2008.

O’Shea pleaded guilty to nine sample counts of fraud. The total amount added up to €779,000.

At one stage the father of two told gardaí he had been threatened by Mr di Stefano, a well-known international lawyer whose previous clients include convicted drug dealer John Gilligan and former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Paul Carroll BL, prosecuting, told Dublin Criminal Circuit Court that the fraud was uncovered when an accountant for the firm found a number of anomalies in their payment scheme in 2008.

These related particularly to the account of John Price, who died suddenly and without a will. A total of 21 cheques made out to members of Mr Price’s family were found to have been stolen by O’Shea, who used one €79,000 cheque to cover a land transaction. Another payment of €5,000 was used to buy a car.

The court heard a number of smaller payments had been made to members of the Price family with the intention of “keeping them sweet”. Mr Carroll said O’Shea’s wife had not known the source of money used to pay their joint Mastercard bill.

O’Shea also authorised a payment of €250,000 to a client which was supposed to be used for a mortgage. However, the money was used for other purposes with O’Shea’s knowledge.

Judge Mary Ellen Ring said O’Shea’s actions were a breach of trust and had caused deep upset, especially to the family of the late Mr Price.

She said that the firm of O’Donovan Solicitors had ceased trading in 2009 as a direct consequence of O’Shea’s crimes. The company was unable to get professional indemnity insurance. Five people lost their jobs when the firm closed.

A statement by O’Shea read to the court by defence counsel Remy Farrell SC stated: “Giovanni di Stefano threatened me and in one phone call said that I had two lovely daughters. . . I was aware that he had dealt with who are known to the gardaí in Limerick.”

O’Shea has no previous convictions. He was dismissed from O’Donovan Solicitors in March 2008 when his thefts came to light. He was struck off the solicitors’ roll in 2009 and is currently taking tax exams.

The judge said O’Shea does not seem to appreciate the significance of the damage caused by his crimes.

She said this was not a one-off offence and that he had abused his position of trust. She imposed a sentence of four years but suspended the last six months.