Jail for credit union worker from Cork who stole over €400k, mostly from deceased members' accounts

Moira Coughlan pictured at Cork Circuit Criminal Court in respect of 592 charges in respect of Synergy/Fermoy Credit Union in North Cork. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts Limited

A two-year-jail term was imposed on a 55-year-old credit union official from Cork for the theft of €407,000.

The judge said Moira Coughlan plundered accounts of deceased members in a breach of trust that was phenomenal.

“She was what I would term the insurance officer in the credit union, the person in whom trust revolved to account for the accounts of deceased members until probate was taken out," Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said of Coughlan.

He said she was the one who was culpable for these multiple frauds. The judge said the money was gone and nobody knew where it went.

Patrick O’Riordan defence barrister said the defendant’s home was in the process of being sold and that she would have €215,000 available from that to repay the Synergy credit union in Fermoy, Co Cork.

The judge said a custodial sentence could not be avoided given the length of time and the methodical nature of the thefts. The two-year sentence was backdated to November 2018 as the accused was in custody from that time.

Mr O’Riordan said Moira Coughlan, 55, of The Stables, Mineville, Knocknahorgan, Sallybrook in Glanmire pleaded guilty previously at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to 592 offences relating to the theft of the money from the credit union.

Detective Sergeant James O’Shea said the total amount of money stolen by the accused between 2009 and 2016 amounted to just over €407,000. The charges against her consisted of 251 for theft, 300 for fraudulent use of a computer and 41 for false accounting.

The thefts arose out of transactions totalling €1.5 million on 27 accounts. A small number of accounts were ones for which she had authority but most of them were accounts of deceased credit union members.

Det. Garda O’Shea said the accounts were in probate and the accused was in a trusted position in the credit union.

The financial controller of the Synergy credit union noticed an unusual action on a deceased member’s account. An internal investigation was carried out and gardaí were notified.

The detective said that the accused was transferring money from account to account. When probation on a deceased member’s account was finalised the defendant would transfer money from other accounts into that account to bring the balance to what it should have been, the detective explained.

No members were at a financial loss. In a victim impact statement on behalf of the credit union the hope was expressed that her punishment would be proportionate to her actions.

In relation to what the €407,000 was used for the defendant said when interviewed, "day to day living". But the detective said that was hard to believe as she would steal €5,000 one day and €3,000 another. At the highpoint of the crimes she stole €78,000 in 2012 and €72,000 the following year. She also referred to a house loan but there was no supporting documentation, the detective said.

Patrick O’Riordan said it all started with various loans that the accused had with the credit union which she could not repay. She lost her marriage and moved out of Mitchelstown as a direct result of her actions and she has had psychiatric difficulties including self-harm.

The total amount referred to in the charges is €407,441.94 and the offences were contrary to the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences Act).

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