Galway GAA player avoids jail over €259,000 theft for gambling

Mark Hehir (26) became addicted to online gambling while still in school, court heard

Mark Hehir pleaded guilty to the theft of €259,072 from his former employers Galway City Bin company over a six-month period in 2016. Photograph: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

Mark Hehir pleaded guilty to the theft of €259,072 from his former employers Galway City Bin company over a six-month period in 2016. Photograph: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

 

A Circuit Court judge has warned parents to be aware of the ease with which children can open online betting accounts and become addicted to gambling on smartphones.

“Bookies are not in the business of losing money,” Judge Rory MacCabe observed at the sentence hearing on Friday of 26-year-old former Galway county footballer Mark Hehir.

Hehir pleaded guilty to the theft of €259,072 from his former employers Galway City Bin company over a six-month period in 2016, after initially becoming addicted to online gambling on his phone while in secondary school.

“If anybody had any doubts about the evil of addiction, and how easy it is to lose money gambling nowadays, particularly gambling online, when anyone with a smartphone can open an account – in fact, anybody, of any age, with a smartphone can open an account with any number of online gambling organisations – then this is a classic example.

“And it should be a red-light warning, particularly to parents, to keep an eye on their children, and to keep an eye to the risks associated with online gambling,” the judge said at Galway Circuit Criminal Court.

The thefts came to light in October 2016, when Hehir’s father became concerned for his welfare and told the waste disposal company about his son’s gambling addiction. The court heard on Friday that Hehir, from Kilgevrin, Tuam, is repaying €100 a week to the waste management company, while his father has repaid a further €29,000.

The talented footballer initially faced 70 charges involving the theft of the cash from the City Bin Company, at Oranmore Business Park, Oranmore, between April and September 2016, and pleaded guilty to 10 sample charges last May while facts in the remaining 60 theft charges were admitted.

On 10 occasions, Hehir transferred sums of €39,435, €34,580, €34,580, €30,000, €22,242, €20,000, €8,016, €4,134, €2,279 and €1,200 from the company’s account to his own bank account, which he then gambled.

Complaint

Det Gerry Carroll told the sentence hearing on Friday that he had been entrusted with full control of the waste disposal company’s accounts payable section and he began to transfer money electronically from that account to his own bank account.

Staff at the company made a complaint to Garda in October 2016 and Hehir admitted that he had made a total of 72 electronic transactions, transferring money to his own account, totalling €259,072.

Det Carroll said Hehir was very involved in the GAA and was a very talented Gaelic footballer.

He said Hehir had a gambling addiction and all of the money was being gambled with a number of different bookies, and mostly online.

Bernard Madden SC, defending, said his client had accounts online with Ladbrokes and Boyle Sports. “This happened between April and September 2016. Was any investigation done as to how this had occurred? How a young man with limited means was capable of betting this sort of money?” Mr Madden asked.

“No,” Det Carroll replied.

Mr Madden said a probation report on his client, which was handed into court, was very positive.

He said Hehir accepted full responsibility for his actions and was very remorseful. Hehir had received treatment for his gambling addiction and this would be ongoing.

Weekly payment

Mr Madden said that while Hehir had lost his job with the City Bin Company, he was now in full-time employment with another company in the city, which was aware of the court proceedings.

He said Hehir had already set aside €3,000 for his former employers and if given a chance would continue making a weekly €100 payment to them.

The judge said that while these offences involved a serious breach of trust, the interests of justice would not be served by imposing a custodial sentence in this case.

He said the headline sentence was four years in prison on each count but given Hehir’s co-operation, plea and subsequent rehabilitation, along with his willingness to continue to repay the company, the appropriate sentence for the first charge was to impose 240 hours of community service in lieu of a two-year prison term.

The judge imposed a two-year sentence for each of the remaining charges, to run concurrently, and he suspended them all for five years on condition that Hehir remain of good behaviour; remain gambling-free; continue to attend Hope House for counselling and comply with all directions of the probation service for two years.

In addition, the judge directed Hehir was not to open any account with any bookmaker online and he is to close any account that might still exist.

He directed Hehir to continue paying €100 a week to his former employers and advised him to do that by direct debit.