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Solicitor admits stealing from clients to help pay €6.5m debts from property boom

The woman will be sentenced in two weeks’ time.

A defence barrister said the couple had
A defence barrister said the couple had "overreached themselves during the property bubble."
Image: Niall carson/PA Images

A FORMER SOLICITOR who was €6.5 million in debt stole €260,000 from her clients after she made a series of “catastrophic” investments during the property boom, a court has heard.

Jacqueline Durcan (47) previously from Co Mayo but with an address in Rue Laubespin, Brussels, Belgium, pleaded guilty to one count of stealing €260,000 between February 2008 and January 2011.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard yesterday that Durcan, a mother-of-five, was running the family business, Durcan Solicitors in Castlebar, Co Mayo, at the time of the offence.

She had taken over the practice, which was set up by her grandfather, from her father after he had a stroke, the court heard.

Garda Noel Brown told Sean Gillane SC, prosecuting, that between 2008 and 2011, Durcan made five withdrawals of sums of up to €100,000 from mixed client deposit accounts.

The court heard Durcan and her husband owed €6.5 million to the banks at the time.

Some of the money was spent on office expenditure and professional indemnity insurance, Garda Brown said.

However, in September 2010, Durcan used €51,500 of the money to pay for the purchase of her own home, the court heard.

Upon hearing her practice was due to be audited in early 2011, Durcan contacted the Law Society and told them there would be a deficit in the accounts.

The garda bureau of fraud investigation was informed in 2013 and Durcan was interviewed by gardaí in 2014.

The court heard it was extremely difficult to ascertain which clients had money stolen from them, as the funds were taken from mixed accounts.

In 2014, the Law Society paid out €206,184 in compensation claims, which Durcan has since repaid.

Durcan was struck off in 2011 and moved to Belgium with her family, where she now teaches English as a foreign language. She has no previous convictions.

Graham Dwyer case The case was heard at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Defence barrister, Patrick Gageby SC, said his client and her husband were in the difficult position of owing €6.5 million to the banks at the time of the offence.

“This young couple overreached themselves during the property bubble,” he said.

They made a series a ventures which brought catastrophic circumstances on themselves and their family.

Gageby also said that the couple now live in “egregious” financial circumstances in Belgium and struggle to support themselves and their five young children who are all aged under 14.

“This is not a case in which anybody set out to enrich themselves,” he said. “It’s not a case where she set out to defraud her clients.”

Judge Melanie Greally said she would need some time to consider sentence. She adjourned the matter to 21 November.

Comments are off as this case is before the courts.

Read: Pensioner tells court of suffering after her carer stole €40k inheritance >

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Isabel Hayes and Sarah-Jane Murphy

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