Former Mayo solicitor who stole from clients jailed for a year

Court told solicitor and her husband owed €6.5 million to banks at the time

 Former solicitor Jacqueline Durcan   is conscious of the dishonour she has brought to the family practice, which was established in the 1920s by her grandfather, in Mayo. Photograph: Collins Courts

Former solicitor Jacqueline Durcan is conscious of the dishonour she has brought to the family practice, which was established in the 1920s by her grandfather, in Mayo. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

A former solicitor who stole €260,000 from her clients over a three year period has been jailed for a year.

Jacqueline Durcan (47), a mother-of-five originally from Co Mayo, carried out the thefts after a series of “catastrophic” investments during the property boom.

Most of the money stolen was put back into the family practice, including paying for professional indemnity insurance. €51,000 was used towards stamp duty for the purchase of her own home, the court heard.

Durcan broke down in tears when the prison sentence was handed down by Judge Patricia Ryan on Thursday. After the judge rose Durcan continued sobbing and said “I cannot go home to my children tonight”.

Durcan, with an address in Rue Laubespin, Brussels, Belgium, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to one count of stealing €260,000 between February 21, 2008 and January 27, 2011.

Judge Ryan said she was taking “well into account” testimonials and references on behalf of Durcan. She said that the serious breach of trust by a solicitor, the continuing nature of the thefts and the amount of money stolen were aggravating factors.

She noted that Durcan’s early plea of guilty was of value and that this conviction has ended her employment.

Durcan was running the family business, Durcan Solicitors in Castlebar, Co Mayo which she had taken over from her father, at the time of the offence.

The court heard she and her husband owed €6.5 million to banks at the time due to the catastrophic property investments they had made.

Garda Noel Brown told Sean Gillane SC, prosecuting, that between 2008 and 2011, Durcan made five withdrawals of sums of up to €100,000 from mixed client deposit accounts.

After hearing her practice was due to be audited in early 2011, Durcan contacted the Law Society and told them there would be a deficit in the accounts.

The court heard it was extremely difficult to ascertain which clients had money stolen from them, as the funds were taken from mixed accounts. In 2014, the Law Society paid out €206,184 in compensation claims.

Durcan has since made reparations to the Society from money given to her by her mother and fees due to the practice.

Durcan, who qualified as a solicitor in 1994 was struck off as a result of the offence and moved to Belgium with her family, where she now teaches English as a foreign language. She has no previous convictions.

Defence barrister, Patrick Gageby SC, said his client and her husband were in the difficult position of owing €6.5 million to the banks at the time of the offence.

He said Durcan is conscious of the dishonour she has brought to the family practice, which was established in the 1920s by her grandfather and it was a “very well respected practice” in Mayo.

“There was no suggestion of a lavish lifestyle and she has now paid back all of the money with money belonging to her mother,” said Mr Gageby.

The couple now live in “egregious” financial circumstances in Belgium and struggle to support themselves and their young children, Mr Gageby said.

“This is not a case in which anybody set out to enrich themselves,” he said. “It’s not a case where she set out to defraud her clients.”

The case had been heard by a different judge and adjourned for sentencing but was reheard on Thursday after the original judge realised that a member of her wider family knew a relative of the accused.