A woman stole €20,000 from her employer over a six-month period to feed a gambling habit which she claimed had developed while she was in an abusive relationship.
Jennifer Browne, with a former address in Ard Alainn, Merlin Park, who now resides in Sligo, pleaded guilty before Galway Circuit Criminal Court last May to the theft of €20,000 from Michael Smyth, c/o SCCUL Enterprises Ltd. at Saol Café, NUIG, on dates between January 1 and June 30, 2016.
Detective Paul Keane gave evidence at her sentence hearing this week that Browne started work as a manager in the café for the charitable company in November 2015 and dealt with all monies coming from the business.
She was the sole person in charge while two people with intellectual disabilities worked in the café.
In June 2016, Mr Smyth noticed discrepancies in the accounts and he spoke to Browne.
She wrote him a letter the next day stating she had a gambling habit that led her to “misappropriate” a substantial amount of money on a daily basis from the café.
Mr Smyth made a formal complaint to Det Keane and Browne admitted her guilt when he contacted her.
He said she had no previous convictions before or since this incident.
Defence barrister, Gary McDonald said his client made full admissions straight away and was very remorseful.
Browne had become suicidal around this time and the charitable organisation had arranged counselling for her, which was very compassionate of them, considering what had happened, he said.
Browne, he said, had been gambling online and she took the money to fund that.
“She thought that if she had just one big win, she would be able to pay off everything, as is the way of gamblers,” he observed.
Browne, who has since moved to Sligo and has a full-time job there, brought €900 to court to give to Mr Smyth.
Mr McDonald said she would be willing to put €100 away each week until the debt was paid off.
He explained that while her problem was gambling, it stemmed from her own abusive domestic situation at the time and not from a compulsion to gamble.
She is now attending a women’s support group and has not gambled since leaving Galway, apart from one relapse, a probation report handed into court confirmed.
Judge Rory McCabe said Browne now owed a balance of €19,100 and it would take her 191 weeks, or almost four years (at €100 per week) to repay the entire amount.
He said the interests of justice would not be served by imposing an immediate custodial sentence as Browne could only repay the money if she continued working.
He said he wanted her to set up a direct debit repaying €100 per week and in doing so, would not be tempted to use the money for anything else.
He adjourned sentenced for six months to see how she was getting on and said he hoped he would be able to deal with it by way of a suspended two-year sentence then if the repayments were being made.
“My only concern is that the money is repaid,” he said.