John, also known Con, Murphy, aged 66, of Church Road, Killiney, Dublin was found guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court of writing cheques from the account of the Children to Lapland Appeal and lodging them in his own account.
Patrick Reynolds, defending, claimed he used his personal account for many business transactions related to the charity and his now defunct travel agency United Travel. He said there was no intention to keep the money for his personal gain.
Garrett McCormack, prosecuting, characterised this position as The Father Ted defence. “To quote Dermot Morgan, they’re trying to say ‘the money was simply resting in my account.”
Murphy had pleaded not guilty to four counts of theft between June and July 2010 in the Dublin area totalling €18,643. After conviction, Judge Patrick McCartan remanded Murphy in custody until sentencing on Monday.
Mr Reynolds asked that Murphy be allowed remain on bail. He said he was in remission from cancer and his sister was very sick. The judge refused, saying: “It is the practise of this court to remand accused in custody following conviction at trial”.
The trial heard Murphy’s full-time job was operating United Travel, a travel agent based in Stillorgan, which flew a route to Lapland. In 1987, he devoted one of these flights to sending terminally ill children who were taken from hospitals around the country. This became the Children to Lapland Appeal.
United Travel operated until 2007 when it lost its trading license from The Civil Aviation Authority as it had incurred losses of €630,105. The court heard the directors, including Murphy, loaned the company over half a million euro but that it never regained its license.
The Children to Lapland Appeal was run by Murphy from the same office. Mr Reynolds, defending, said the charity bought the flights to Lapland from United Travel but could never pay it back. He said this was United Travel “subsidising” the charity.
Mr Reynolds said the charity owed United Travel and Mr Murphy €68,000 shortly before the money was stolen. He also said a sum of €4,000 was lodged back to the charity’s account after the thefts.
Counsel said it was a “good charity” which sent thousands of terminally ill children to see Santa Claus in Lapland. Mr McCormack, said it was still theft even if the money was repaid later. Judge McCartan agreed.