An employee of The Templecrone Co-operative Agricultural Society stole over €100,000 over a two-year period after becoming involved in an online scam.
Billy Mooney of 8 St Peter's Terrace, Dungloe has admitted 18 charges of dishonestly appropriating money and one count of false accounting at The Cope’s Annagry branch on dates between July 2014 and January 2016.
Letterkenny Circuit Criminal Court heard that Mooney used his intimate knowledge of the accounting system at the business to hide the thefts.
The sentencing hearing on Friday was told Mooney paid the money to people he met online and had believed he would be paid back. He believed that he was only borrowing the money from his employers.
Det Garda John Gallagher of Milford Garda Station told the court the thefts were reported in February 2016 by the chief executive of The Cope, Mark Sharkey.
He told gardaí he believed a substantial sum of cash had been stolen and he believed it had been stolen from money allocated to the Ulster Bank ATM at the Annagry premises.
The losses were estimated at over €100,000 and an audit was underway. The business spent over €16,000 on forensic accounting to trace the losses.
The final amount Mooney was charged with stealing was €102,180. Individual amounts that he stole ranged between €2,000 and €19,800.
Mooney became a suspect after he sent a text message to a female colleague saying he had got caught up in some difficulty that involved money.
He confided to the colleague that he was “in big bother” and kept borrowing money to cover money that somebody was looking for and was in debt of around €80,000.
The financial controller of the business told gardaí that he found a large gap in the amount of cash that was believed to have been in the premises and what was actually there.
There were only two employees tasked with looking after the cash feed to the ATM and Mooney was one of them.
The Garda investigation revealed that Mooney had found a way of removing money but ensuring that it still existed on paper. He had knowledge of the accounting system and was able to mask each theft.
Gardaí carried out a search of his house and took a laptop and a phone. Mooney voluntarily told gardaí what he had been doing. He said he had been caught in an internet scam and had been asked to help people out.
Detective Garda Gallagher said Mooney told them the demands for money kept coming. He was drawn in and started using funds from The Cope in the belief he was going to get all the money repaid.
He was arrested on October 3, 2016 and made admissions to gardaí.
Spiraled out of control
He had kept track of his actions and had a document which covered €63,000 of the losses.
Garda Gallagher said it was a matter that had “spiraled out of control”.
Mooney had destroyed a lot of records and had cloaked his activities. There were no receipts for the money he said he transferred. The screen of the laptop was broken and could not be accessed.
Most of the funds went out via the post office and Western Union and Mooney had destroyed all those receipts.
Detective Garda Gallagher said Mooney was 100 percent cooperative from the beginning of the investigation and wanted to get it off his chest.
The garda said he did not believe that Mooney had gained financially from his actions and all the money went into the scam.
In a victim impact statement, Mark Sharkey, the chief executive of The Cope, said the business had been struggling for years and the number of staff had dropped from 165 to just over 100.
He said The Cope had not been able to legislate for a a trusted employee using his intimate knowledge of the business to steal a figure that he put at over €130,000.
Hundreds and hundreds of hours were spent trying to work out what had happened.
The fraud caused “collateral damage” including shock, stress and uncertainty amongst staff and had substantially impacted on individuals in the business, he said.
Mr Sharkey told Judge John Aylmer that The Cope had not received an apology from Mooney, or any explanation. Nor had there been an attempt to recompense the business.
Mooney went on sick leave for 14 months after the thefts were exposed.
Believed that he was borrowing the money
Defence barrister John McLaughlin (BL) said Mr Mooney had accepted he had done wrong when he sent the text message to his colleague.
Mr McLaughlin said the internet scam started around 2012. The online relationships “were romantic relations in his mind”.
Mooney believed he was borrowing money and kept records of the money that had been taken so that the money could be returned.
Mr McLaughlin said Mooney genuinely believed that he was borrowing the money and it would be returned.
Mr McLaughlin said Mooney was a highly trusted member of staff and was well-liked by customers and staff.
He said Mooney had been motivated by human sympathy and “tall tails of death and hospital bills”.
“The monies were transferred in a belief the people needed the money and he genuinely believed that.
“He was not aware it was a scam and he became deeper involved and arguments began between him and the scammers and more demands were made. He went to whatever lengths were required to get these monies."
A psychiatric report prepared for the court described Mooney as a vulnerable person.
Mr McLaughlin said it was Mooney’s “twisted belief” that he was borrowing the money and he kept records so that he would have a specific record of the money so that he could give it back when the money was returned to him.
Judge John Aylmer adjourned the case until Wednesday for sentencing.