Thomas Byrne jailed for 12 years for fraud offences

Monday 02 December 2013 23.44
Thomas Byrne was found guilty last month of 50 charges (Pic: Photocall/Sam Boal)
Thomas Byrne was found guilty last month of 50 charges (Pic: Photocall/Sam Boal)

Former solicitor Thomas Byrne has been jailed for a total of 12 years after being found guilty of 50 offences in what was the largest ever fraud trial here.

Judge Pat McCartan imposed a nine-year sentence for theft and a consecutive sentence of seven years for forgery, with the last four years suspended.

He also imposed a concurrent five-year sentence for the remaining forgery offences.

Judge McCartan said Byrne was guilty of a severe breach of his position of trust.

The offences were carried out with skill and cunning, he said, and involved a colossal loss with very little recovered.

The seven-year sentence was imposed for forging the signature of his colleague, Barbara Cooney. The judge said this was a particularly nasty offence.

The offences involved almost €52m, six banks and 12 Dublin properties.

Judge McCartan said the scale of his wrongdoing was colossal, all the more so because he was a solicitor. The profession, he said, had served the nation well.

He said: "Without them the wheels of commerce simply could not turn because they are given a considerable degree of trust.

"He was admitted to that profession and unfortunately abused every aspect of it.

"I don’t know the scale of the damage he has done to the profession, but it must be considerable."

He said thefts were at the upper end of the scale and the maximum sentence was ten years.

Judge McCartan said the amount of money concerned was staggering to consider.

He said the crimes required careful planning and execution, and they were not just a dip in the till. Byrne had to identify property and build portfolios carefully, the judge said. It was all very cunning, he added.

The judge said Byrne had contested the charges and said some of those who loaned the money were somehow complicit, but he simply was not believable.

Turning to the forgery charges, Judge McCartan said these were more serious and repetitive. By abuse of his office he had created documents that were entirely false.

The forging of Ms Cooney's signature was a particularly nasty crime, Judge McCartan said.

He said in the other cases where witnesses were accused of lying, they could now take comfort from the fact that he admitted they were telling the truth.

"They have been vindicated. They were telling the truth," said Judge McCartan.

Earlier, the judge commended gardaí and Detective Sergeant Paschal Walsh of the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation for the investigation and the manner in which evidence was presented to the trial and to the jury.

He said it was done in a very professional way and had greatly assisted the court.

Counsel for Byrne, Damien Colgan, said he now accepted the jury's verdict as the proper one. He had asked the judge to consider suspending a portion of the sentence.

Mr Colgan said the 47-year-old, who once had a good legal practice, never believed he would find himself in this situation and before a court awaiting sentence.

He said: "Unlike others he did not leave the jurisdiction except for one week as this is how he wanted to deal with it.

"He did not leave himself in a foreign jurisdiction having to be extradited back.

"He is a man who has lost his profession, lost his life, lost his family, his dignity and respect."

Mr Colgan said Byrne had always tried to continue with his obligations but matters got out of hand.

"Like a house of cards it all collapsed in a single moment," he said.

He said incorrect stories about Byrne having criminals for clients were written in the media since his conviction and this could lead to serious concerns for his safety while in prison.

"Reckless journalism can sometimes lead to serious incidents," he said.

He said Byrne was not a threat to society. He had resorted to alcohol as there was desperation and hopelessness, and he could deal with this in prison.

Mr Colgan asked the court to go as far as it can in respect of his personal circumstances.

Law Society labels Byrne's conduct 'disgusting'

The Director General of the Law Society of Ireland Ken Murphy has described the behaviour of Byrne as disgraceful, abhorrent and disgusting.

Mr Murphy told RTÉ’s Six One News that the Society sympathised with Byrne's clients who he said were the victims of a thief  who “quite rightly is going to spend a very long time in jail”. 

He said the Law Society Compensation fund is primarily designed to cater for cases where money is entrusted by a client to their solicitor and lost through the dishonesty of that solicitor in the course of their practice and where that happens, as it did in many cases in the Byrne case, those people can receive full repayments of their money.

He said however, that this scheme, by statute, does not cover consequential loss as occurred in the case of some of Byrne's clients.

Mr Murphy said the €8 million paid out by the Solicitor's profession was more than any other solicitor had cost the profession.

He said Byrne was an extremely devious and deceitful individual who had deceived his own accountant and had created false documents and false records, and who had forged the name of a solicitor.

Mr Murphy said that most of the dishonest and fraudulent activity that Byrne had engaged in had occurred during the last year that he was in practice.

He paid tribute to Barbara Cooney, an associate in Byrne's practice, for bringing his activities to the Society's attention.

He said the Society had acted very quickly on this information and had closed Byrne's practice down.