Byrne was sentenced yesterday by Judge Patrick McCartan following a 27-day trial which concluded two weeks ago. It was the largest theft case to come before the courts in the history of the State.
Judge McCartan imposed a term of nine years for Byrne’s thefts from the banks and seven years for forging his employee’s signature as part of the fraud.
He imposed five years on the remaining forgery counts involving the deeds to his client’s houses.
He ordered that the nine- and seven-year terms run consecutively in light of “the nature, scale, considerable skill, cunning and fraud” involved in the offences. The judge suspended the final four years of the 16-year term in light of Byrne’s “personal circumstances” and to give him some hope for the future.
Byrne did not react or show emotion during sentencing.
Judge McCartan wished him good luck as he was led away to begin his term.
In his sentencing comments, the judge praised the bravery of Byrne’s former employee, solicitor Barbara Cooney. Ms Cooney brought Byrne’s fraud to the attention of the Law Society after discovering he had forged her signature on a document.
Judge McCartan said Ms Cooney had the courage to go to the Society even after Byrne and his former business partner John Kelly tried to stop her.
The judge noted that Ms Cooney “had the courage to stand up to John Kelly, the man Mr Byrne says groomed him for years and ran him like a puppet”.
It was part of Byrne’s defence that Mr Kelly forced him to take out the fraudulent loans on his behalf.
The judge said it was “particularly nasty” aspect of the case that Ms Cooney was later sued as a result of Byrne forging her signature. She successfully defended the case and Byrne later admitted the forgery during a civil case.
Judge McCartan said Byrne had engaged in “colossal wrongdoing” which was made worse because he was a solicitor who was invested with status and the trust of society. The judge said it is unknown what damage he has done to the reputation of the profession “but it must be considerable”.
The judge also took into account “the staggering amounts of money” and the fact that the thefts required careful planning and execution. He also rejected Byrne’s claims that he gained no benefit from the fraud. He said that Byrne had “amassed a considerable portfolio” of between 40 and 50 properties which were in his own name.
Byrne, aged 47, of Mountjoy Square, Dublin, was accused of theft and fraud offences totalling €51.8 million. The charges alleged Byrne transferred clients’ homes into his name and then used them as collateral for property loans. He is also accused of using invalid collateral to fraudulently borrow millions of euro from six financial institutions.
He had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 50 counts of theft, forgery, using forged documents and deception between 2004 and 2007. The jury had previously been ordered to acquit him of another count due to lack of evidence.
The case comprised two distinct parts. The first module dealt with how Byrne signed his client’s homes into his own name without their knowledge using forged signatures. His victims included his close friend, a 91-year-old woman and an investment partnership of three gardaí.
The second module detailed how Byrne used the same properties as collateral with different financial institutions to borrow €51.8 million.
These offences involved Anglo Irish Bank, Irish Nationwide Building Society, KBC, Bank of Scotland Ireland, National Irish Bank and EBS.
Defence counsel Damien Colgan SC said his client has no previous convictions and complied with all his bail conditions.
Counsel asked the judge to pay particular consideration to Byrne’s personal circumstances: he had lost his practice, his freedom and his standing in the community. He said his client hadn’t fled the country or taken High Court proceedings to stop the prosecution.