Trusted employee who stole €50k from Limerick clinic avoids prison

David Hurley

Reporter:

David Hurley

A woman who stole around €50,000 from the dental clinic in Limerick where she worked has avoided a prison sentence

A woman who stole around €50,000 from the dental clinic in Limerick where she worked has avoided a prison sentence

A WOMAN who stole around €50,000 from the dental clinic in Limerick where she worked has avoided a prison sentence.

Bridget O'Connell, aged 43, who has an address at Willowbrook, Kilknockan, Adare, had pleaded guilty to 15 sample charges of theft relating to offences which took place between on dates between January 2013 and March 2014.

Each of the individual charges related to the theft of small amounts of money – typically around €150.

During a sentencing hearing last month, Limerick Circuit Court was told the defendant was a “trusted employee” at Bowe Dental Clinic, Roxboro, when she committed the offences.

The owner of the business – Robert Bowe – made a complaint to gardai during the summer of 2014 after he became aware of a discrepancy between the amount of money which had been logged on the clinic’s lodgment system and the balance in the bank account.

After a staff meeting, Bridget O’Connell admitted stealing the money and following a further meeting, she pleaded with him not to report the matter  to gardaí.

At the time the dental clinic had 16 employees and around 5,000 patients on its books

Garda Stephen Kelleher said the defendant – a family friend of Mr Bowe for over 20 years –  was a trusted employee who had a key for the post box in which all cash, cheques and credit card slips were put into.

Judge Tom O’Donnell was told her modus operandi was to divert some of the cash (from customers) before it was lodged “for her own benefit”.

The defendant initially told gardai she had taken the money to repay a money lender as she and her husband “felt under some type of threat”.

However, Judge O’Donnell noted she subsequently told the Probation Service that he had used the money to “finance her day-to-day existence”.

In a victim impact statement, Robert Bowe said he and his family were very hurt by the defendant who has not made any meaningful effort to pay the money back.

Defence counsel Eimear Carey said her client "found herself in a black hole” and that she saw no way out.

She said the defendant has paid back just over €9,200 but that she “doesn't have the financial wherewithal to come up with any more”.

She submitted her Ms O’Connell’s admissions and guilty plea were important given the complex nature of the offences.

Judge O’Donnell said there had been a “clear breach of trust” and he noted the actions of the defendant had a personal impact on Robert Bowe and had affected staff morale at the dental practice.

He said the pre-meditated nature of the offending was an aggravating factor as was the systematic and deliberate way she had stolen the money.

However, he said her cooperation, her remorse, her personal circumstances and the absence of previous convictions were all mitigating factors.

The judge noted she had lost her job, had lost her friendship and that her reputation has also suffered as a result of her offending.

A probation report which was prepared for the court in advance of the sentencing hearing placed  the defendant at a low risk of re-offending.

Judge O’Donnell said while some might consider a custodial sentence to be appropriate, he was willing to give the defendant a chance.

He imposed a three year prison sentence, suspending it in its entirety.

The judge was previously informed Ms O’Connell had raised around €10,000 in compensation and he directed that it be handed over as soon as possible.