A garda and property dealer has given evidence that former solicitor Thomas Byrne never passed on a €1.87m cheque which was intended to pay off a property loan.
Brian Whelan said he and his two garda colleagues used Mr Byrne as a solicitor in the purchasing and refinancing of an apartment block on Dorset Street in Dublin city centre.
Mr Whelan told the jury that when he gave the accused the cheque to pay off the original loan as part of the refinancing deal, it was never passed onto their bank, Permanent TSB.
The trial also heard evidence from two brothers who were also property dealers and landlords. Matt and Terry Connors operated properties around the city and rented some out as social welfare housing to HSE clients.
Matt Connors gave evidence he employed Mr Byrne in the purchase of five properties and that he later found out that these had been transferred into the solicitor’s name using forged signatures without his knowledge.
Mr Byrne (aged 47) of Walkinstown Road, Crumlin is accused of theft and fraud offences totalling €51.8million. Most of the counts allege he transferred clients’ homes into his name and then used them as collateral for bank loans.
He has pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 51 counts of theft, forgery, using forged documents and deception between 2004 and 2007.
Today, Mr Whelan told Remy Farrell SC, prosecuting, that he knew Mr Byrne since 1993 when the solicitor acted for him in a property deal.
In 2006 he decided, along with fellow gardaí Enda Mulryan and Brian Marr, to buy an apartment complex on Dorset Street for €2.2 million. They secured a mortgage with Permanent TSB for €1.87 million and employed Mr Byrne to help buy the property.
Mr Whelan said that in May 2007 they decided to refinance the property as “property values had gone up and rates had gone down”.
This refinancing deal involved the trio getting a new mortgage on the property for €1.97 million from Permanent TSB. The agreement included a clause that the gardaí would use this sum to repay the first mortgage, thereby releasing €100,000 in equity.
Mr Byrne, who was still acting for the men, entered into a solicitor’s undertaking. This was a legally binding document stating that he would take the men’s refinancing cheque and use it to repay the original mortgage.
Mr Whelan said he later received the expected €100,000 in equity from Mr Byrne, less solicitor’s fees.
Two days later he got a letter from TSB stating that the original mortgage had not being repaid as agreed. He told the court that Mr Byrne never paid off the original loan.
Matt Connors told the trial that he and his brother Terry used Mr Byrne in the purchase of five properties for which they paid a total of €1,085,000.
Mr Connors said he later found out that Mr Byrne was registered as the owner of all five properties and that his signature had been forged on several documents relating to the transfer of the properties.
He said he never agreed to sell Mr Byrne these houses and never received any money for them from the solicitor.
The witness agreed with defence counsel Damien Colgan SC that he had sold Mr Byrne two rental properties in the past and agreed to manage them for him and collect rent. However he said that had been the extent of their deal and no further properties were involved.
Matt Connors said he first learned there was a problem when in October 2007 some of his tenants got a letter for a chartered accountant who was acting as a receiver for Anglo Irish Bank.
The letters stated that Mr Byrne had been the owner of the properties and that the accountants were now collecting the rent on behalf of the bank who had taken over the properties.
The trial continues before Judge Patrick McCartan and a jury of seven men and five women.