An Ardara mother-of-three who admitted stealing €8,500 from Glenties Dyslexia Workshop while working as its treasurer, has been given an 18 months jail sentence which will be suspended on payment of compensation at the next sitting of Donegal Circuit Court in December.
44-year-old Fionula Laverty, Garvegort, Glebe, Ardara admitted 10 counts of the theft of money totalling €8,500, property of Glenties Dyslexia Workshop.
The offences were carried out on dates between August 2012 and December 2015 at Ulster Bank Letterkenny; Ulster Bank Ardara; Darnell’s Supermarket and Service Station, Portnoo Road, Ardara; Iniskeel Co-op, Main St, Glenties; and Diver’s Newsagents, Ardara.
The separated mother, who has two children who are dyslexic, also pleaded guilty to using a false instrument, by forging seven cheques in the name of Anne O’Donnell on the account of Glenties Dyslexia Workshop.
The seven offences occurred on dates on or before September 18, 2012 and June 25, 2014.
The offences are contrary to Section 25 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001.
The judge imposed a jail sentence of 18 months concurrent on all 17 counts before the court but he said they would be suspended in full when he found out who exactly needed to be compensated with the €8,500 which the defendant had gathered as restitution.
And he also wanted to know in December, how much of the outstanding €10,000-€12,000 had been paid to the Revenue, a figure that emerged in earlier evidence.
Breach of trust
In sentencing the defendant, whose actions caused the workshop to close for over three years, Judge John Aylmer said her crime was a “significant breach of trust” from a woman whose victim was the charity she worked for.
The judge said the defendant had “fallen from grace” and “some members of her own family shun her.”
Garda Manus O’Donnell told the court earlier that the Glenties Dyslexia Workshop had been set up to help children of all ages in the area who had that condition in the mid 1990s.
Fionula Laverty was treasurer from 2009-2015 and had access to the funds.
But the charity was disaffiliated by Dyslexia Association of Ireland for non-payment of tax and it was discovered that the defendant had been writing cheques for herself and taking cash from some church gate collections to fund and pay back some of the revenue debts.
When interviewed in April 2017 she admitted cashing the cheques and forging the name of Anne O’Donnell on the cheques.
The garda agreed under cross-examination from defence counsel Peter Nolan that this was “out of character” for the defendant.
Her situation was widely known in the small town of Ardara.
Mr Nolan said she was well known in the area, was separated and had three children which she supported, and her husband was now in Northern Ireland.
She was paying a mortgage and her husband was not supporting her and there were no trappings of a lavish lifestyle, the court heard. The defendant used the money to pay to feed her family.
Her mortgage was not paid and there had been a repossession matter, but she was now a tenant of Donegal County Council in what was her former home.
The defendant’s actions were known in her area and “thanks to the Fourth Estate” even more people would know about those actions, the counsel suggested.
When Mr Nolan suggested to Garda O’Donnell that the defendant’s actions were “an aberration,” the garda said he would “like to think so.”
State prosecutor Patricia McLaughlin said the defendant’s actions had caused a major effect in the community which catered for children and all ages.
Fionula Laverty told the court she wanted to apologise to the parents, children, committee of the Dyslexia Workshop, the DAI and especially Anne O’Donnell whom she had “dragged into” this matter.
Mrs Laverty said she had tried to apologise in person to Anne O’Donnell but “she understandably does not talk to me.”
Her marriage broke down in 2017 and she was the sole breadwinner for her three children who were 22, 18 and 16 and she had taken in another stepchild which her husband had from a previous relationship.
The defendant said her actions were well known in Ardara and there were some shops she could not go into in the town as some members of the dyslexia committee were working in them. She said she sat in her car when her sons went to play football.
Her husband knew about the house repossession but she claimed he did nothing to help her.
She would not be able to find any work in Ardara and she received €260 Illness Benefit per week.
Defence counsel Mr Nolan said the defendant was “overwhelmed with shame and remorse” and was living in a small town where she is “ostracised and will never recover her reputation.”
Mr Nolan said the early plea had spared a complex case and the defendant had gathered €8,500 to pay back and would continue to make restitution.
The counsel said a custodial sentence would not advance matters, it would retard matters and it would stop her getting the money to finish making restitution.
Judge Aylmer said these were serious offences and it was carried out over a period of three years.
It was quite clear the defendant had suffered and would continue to suffer a significant fall from grace “where she was previously a very highly respected member of a small community and that was why she was treasurer and now she is shunned as a consequence of her involvement in these offences.”
It was clear she would not get a job in the future with “any financial duties.”
Her offences were not to fund a lavish lifestyle but day to day and rearing her family where she was under considerable financial pressure.
“It was an aberration in her previous good character.”