A 32-year-old founding member of an animal welfare charity which cared for abandoned cats has avoided jail after he managed to pay back €27,500 he stole in order to fund his online gambling addiction.
Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard that Owen Collins of Mountain Barracks, Mitchelstown, Co Cork, had developed a pernicious gambling problem and subsubsequently started stealing from the charity, Cat Haven.
The electrician, who has worked all his life, pleaded guilty to stealing €27,500. He has paid the money back on an incremental basis from his wages in addition to receiving support from his partner and her family.
Defence barrister Hannah Cahill said that her client had gained “great solace” in assisting kittens and cats and that it helped him to deal with his grief having lost his father, sister and mother in tragic circumstances.
Unfortunately, his gambling addiction became a factor in his life. Judge Helen Boyle was told that he stole from his own charity from June 2017 to March 2019 to pay for online gambling with bookmakers Bet365. The sums of money stolen ranged from €10 to €7,500.
Collins acted independently and none of the other trustees had any knowledge that he used the charity bank account for gambling.
Cat Haven had been granted charitable status by the Charities Regulator in December 2018 having been founded the previous year.
The charity, which is no longer in operation, took in abandoned and unwanted cats and kittens in order to re-home them after they had been neutered, microchipped and vaccinated. Cat Haven was deregulated as a charity in January of last year.
Prosecuting counsel Dermot Sheehan said that there was 39 charges of theft on the original indictment. In April 2021, Collins pleaded guilty to 10 sample counts involving the loss of €27,500 from the charity. The case was adjourned at regular intervals in order to allow Collins time to raise compensation.
Det Garda Maura O’Riordan said Collins was genuinely involved in the rescue of kittens and cats. Initially in 2017, when he was given donations by the public he used a personal bank account to deposit the money. In February 2018, a charity bank account was established with Bank of Ireland.
Det Garda O’Riordan said the alarm was raised by a former volunteer who became suspicious of Collins. Collins presented to the Bridewell Garda station in Cork in May 2020 where he made full admissions of his guilt. He has since paid back all the money he stole. The money will be distributed to animal welfare charities in the Cork area.
Ms Cahill said that her client had sought help for his gambling addiction.
“He indicated that he was solely responsible. He has put his best foot forward and hasn’t come to Garda attention since. He is extremely remorseful. He used poker as an escape from his life. It took this incident to admit to himself that he was an addict.
“He has closed his online gambling accounts. He has closed his bank accounts and only has a credit union account. His partner manages that.”
Ms Cahill said that the defendant had had a difficult upbringing and was in foster care as a young man. She stated that he was extremely ashamed of his actions and wanted to offer his sincere apology to other volunteers, trustees and donors.
The judge noted his early guilty plea and emphasised that Collins had made efforts to address his gambling problem. She read a letter from his employer and noted that he was a hard worker who was starting to get his life back on track.
The judge said that the aggravating factor in the case was that it involved a “relatively significant amount of money stolen over an extended period of time”.
She said that Collins had had a “background of loss” and a “fractured upbringing”. She said that it was a mid-range case and imposed a custodial sentence of 30 months which she suspended in its entirety for a period of 30 months. Collins vowed to keep the peace and be of good behaviour.