A payroll administrator who stole over €870,000 from Virgin Media Television over a period of ten years has been remanded on bail pending sentence to spend time with her young family over Christmas.
Kellie Walton (40) of Kilfenora Road, Kimmage, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to stealing €70,614 at Virgin Media Television, Westgate Business Park, Ballymount, Dublin, on an unknown date in 2019.
She also pleaded guilty to theft of €34,961 from Virgin Media at the same address also on an unknown date in 2009 and to one charge of false accounting between 2009 and 2019. She has no previous convictions and has not come to garda attention since.
Walton worked as a payroll administrator with the company since 2006.
Eoghan Cole BL, prosecuting, told the court that the pleas were representative of a number of sample charges of theft, one charge per year between 2009 and 2019 and that additional charges of money laundering could be taken into account.
Detective Garda John Tuttle outlined the various amounts stolen by Walton each year. He agreed with Mr Cole that each transaction typically involved less than €10,000 which Walton then transferred to either one of two bank accounts that she had control over.
The largest amount stolen any year was over €120,000 with a total amount of €872,437 taken, Det Gda Tuttle said.
Walton’s barrister told the court that her client didn’t use the money to fund a lavish lifestyle or buy high end cars or designer clothes but rather used it to “soften the edges of family life”.
Fiona Murphy SC said her client began stealing at a time when her partner could not work due to ill health and the family were under “financial stress” but it then became something that “got out of control”.
"As matters progressed, she got caught in a web," Ms Murphy said, describing how Walton lived in constant fear of being caught and was "haunted by her actions".
“She was looking over her shoulder for 10 years,” counsel said adding that Walton lived in constant fear and anxiety and “lived half a life while waiting for the other shoe to drop”.
Ms Murphy said her client lives in rented accommodation and doesn’t have a family home to show for it. “The money was frittered away on low end dispensable items,” counsel said.
"The amounts involved are more than softening the edges," Judge Melanie Greally said having considered that the many of the amounts taken each year equated to a significant annual salary.
“I don’t know what her family thought she was doing career wise enabling her to share the benefits of her employment so generously,” the judge continued.
Judge Greally said she needed time to consider the contents of various reports, letters and testimonials handed in behalf of Walton.
She asked Ms Murphy if her client “wanted to be at liberty over Christmas”. The woman has four children aged from one year old to 20 years old.
Counsel said Walton was fully expecting to be going to jail today but said she may want to spend this Christmas with her children and asked to be allowed to take an instruction from her client.
Ms Murphy thanked the judge for the opportunity and said that Walton would like to have her case finalised in the new year. Walton was remanded on continuing bail and the case adjourned to January 19 next.
Det Gda Tuttle said Walton worked as a payroll administrator with the company from 2006 and as such authorised payments of wages and expenses to both staff and casual employees.
In order to steal the money, she would make unauthorised payments to casual staff in the name of people who previously worked there and falsified the relevant documentation to support the payment.
She would then transfer the amount to one of two bank accounts and later either withdraw the money as cash or transfer the funds to her own bank account.
Det Gda Tuttle said a garda investigation was launched after Virgin Media conducted its own internal investigation. It was noted that €90,000 had been stolen from the company bank account and transferred to an unauthorised bank account.
Walton was identified as a suspect as she was the only person who had the access and authority to carry out such transactions.
She was on holiday when the discovery was made but agreed to take part in a web chat with her employer during which she took responsibility for taking the cash, expressed remorse and said she would make admissions later.
Det Gda Tuttle said the subsequent garda investigation led to the discovery that Walton had been stealing money over an extended period of time. She had €2,000 remaining in her own bank account which was later frozen.
Walton was arrested on January 28, 2020 and interviewed four times during which she “exercised her right to silence”, Mr Cole said.
Det Gda Tuttle agreed with Ms Murphy that Walton was heavily pregnant at the time of her arrest and was clearly upset and distressed during interviews.
Ms Murphy said Walton’s first purpose for stealing money was “to provide for the family” as she had a “serious fear of letting her family down”.
She said in many ways her client thinks it was “a blessing to be confronted” and submitted that she has “engaged in every way possible” with her rehabilitation.
Counsel said Walton also helped out a family member that had been in trouble and said there is a further €28,000 frozen in other bank accounts from family members who received cash from Walton.
It was acknowledged by Det Gda Tuttle that her extended family are hardworking people who would not be on the garda radar.
Ms Murphy said that Walton “couldn’t engage” with the garda interviews as she was heavily pregnant at the time and “just shut down”. She said Walton was “a huge support to her husband and children” and has a “very focused attitude” towards supporting her family.
Ms Murphy said the thefts were “initially done through desperation” but then Walton wanted to help other family members and she got caught in a trap.
She described her client as “the glue that holds the family together” and said she is willing to engage with any processes the court deems fit. A probation report concluded that she was at a low risk of re-offending.