Gayle Killilea denies Seán Dunne ran US property company

Wife of bankrupt developer tells court she was in charge but relied on Dunne’s expertise

Gayle Killilea: insisted that she was ultimate decision-maker, even as her husband served as Mountbrook USA’s only employee and CEO at no salary. Photograph: Collins Courts

Gayle Killilea: insisted that she was ultimate decision-maker, even as her husband served as Mountbrook USA’s only employee and CEO at no salary. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

On her second day of testimony in the American civil trial of her husband Seán Dunne, Gayle Killilea faced a blizzard of emails appearing to show Mr Dunne effectively running the US property development company she says she owned and operated.

Ms Killilea repeatedly and vigorously contested the degree of Mr Dunne’s influence, insisting that she was ultimate decision-maker, even as her husband served as Mountbrook USA’s only employee and CEO at no salary.

In a typical exchange, Thomas Curran, the lawyer for Mr Dunne’s US bankruptcy trustee, cited an email in which Ms Killilea asked Mr Dunne the maximum price the firm should pay for a property.

“You just told me you made all the decisions,” Mr Curran said.

“You are mischaracterising the email,” Ms Killilea replied. “It’s a turn of phrase, ‘What’s the maximum you are willing to pay?’”

“You were not asking Seán Dunne how much he was willing to pay for 42 Bote Road?” he said.

“I was asking his opinion,” she replied.

The company is one of tens of millions of dollars of assets Mr Dunne transferred to his wife during the late 2000s. Richard Coan, the trustee in Mr Dunne’s 2013 American bankruptcy, alleges the transfer of the assets as his property empire was imploding was a ruse to shield them from creditors. The trustee is suing to claw back those assets so they can be distributed to creditors, including the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) and Ulster Bank.

Financial problems

Mr Dunne and Ms Killilea’s lawyers date the transfers to before his financial problems began and say he made them out of love for his wife and to assure her and their children’s futures.

Testimony on Monday centred on Mr Dunne and Ms Killilea’s efforts to buy and develop residential properties from 2010 to 2012 in Greenwich, Connecticut, home to some of the most expensive residential properties in the United States. The couple bought at least three properties in the community, living for a time in at least one of them, before reselling them.

They purchased one property for $2 million, tore down the house and built a new home. They later sold the luxury abode for more than $5 million, walking away with a profit of more than $1 million after expenses, according to testimony and documents entered into evidence. Mr Dunne had been seeking more than $7 million, according to one email.

Emails and other documents showed Mr Dunne deeply involved in all aspects of the projects, dealing with architects, supervising construction, making pricing decisions, instructing brokers how to market properties, even making final landscaping decisions.

Ms Killilea, however, who was included on most of the emails, insisted that she was the final arbiter and she chose to rely on her husband’s expertise and experience in property development, marketing and sales.

Secret

Emails entered into evidence showed Ms Killilea eager to keep it secret that she and her husband were involved in property development in Greenwich.

“I still don’t want the property linked to me in any public record,” she wrote in one email.

Pressed by Mr Curran on why, Ms Killilea said that she wanted to maintain her family’s privacy, complaining that she had been “hounded for months”. She did not elaborate.

On another property, Ms Killilea instructed a real estate broker to deny that her husband was involved. “If anyone asks if Seán Dunne is the builder, just say you don’t know him,” she wrote in an email entered into evidence. “There are two builders involved, a man and woman, and you deal with [a local developer].”

In emails, Ms Killilea expressed eagerness to live in Greenwich, but her attitude to the enclave turned sour. “My experience in Greenwich to date has been nothing short of a nightmare, and I cannot trust anyone,” she wrote in one email.

Mr Dunne is expected to testify later this week.