A former solicitor who stole €260,000 from her clients over a three-year period has been jailed for a year.
Jacqueline Durcan, aged 47, a mother of five originally from Co Mayo, carried out the thefts after a series of “catastrophic” investments during the property boom.
Most of the money stolen was put back into the family practice, including paying for professional indemnity insurance, and €51,000 was used towards stamp duty for the purchase of her own home, the court heard.
Durcan broke down in tears when the prison sentence was handed down by Judge Patricia Ryan yesterday morning.
After the judge rose, Durcan continued sobbing and said: “I cannot go home to my children tonight.”
Durcan, with an address in Rue Laubespin, Brussels, Belgium, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to one count of stealing €260,000 between February 21, 2008, and January 27, 2011.
Judge Ryan said she was taking “well into account” testimonials and references on behalf of Durcan. She said that the serious breach of trust by a solicitor, the continuing nature of the thefts and the amount of money stolen were aggravating factors.
She noted that Durcan’s early plea of guilty was of value, and that this conviction ended her employment.
Durcan was running the family business, Durcan Solicitors in Castlebar, Co Mayo, which she had taken over from her father, at the time of the offence.
The court heard she and her husband owed €6.5m to banks at the time due to the catastrophic property investments they had made.
After hearing her practice was due to be audited in early 2011, Durcan contacted the Law Society and told them there would be a deficit in the accounts.
In 2014, the Law Society paid out €206,184 in compensation claims.
Durcan has since made reparations to the Law Society from money given to her by her mother and fees due to the practice.
Durcan, who qualified as a solicitor in 1994 was struck off as a result of the offence and moved to Belgium with her family, where she now teaches English as a foreign language. She has no previous convictions.
Patrick Gageby, defending, said Durcan is conscious of the dishonour she has brought to the family practice, which was established in the 1920s and has since closed.
She is extremely unlikely to reoffend, he said.
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