Former solicitor remanded over €2.8m theft from clients

Wednesday 02 July 2014 19.42
Ruairi O Ceallaigh admitted stealing from client accounts at the family law firm in Phibsborough
Ruairi O Ceallaigh admitted stealing from client accounts at the family law firm in Phibsborough

A former solicitor who stole almost €3 million in client funds to gamble on stock markets and investment properties will be sentenced later this month.

Ruairi O Ceallaigh, 42, from Collegeland, Summerhill, was remanded in custody after he admitted seven offences under the Theft and Fraud Act.

One of the thefts included €1.5 million from funds left in a will to the Archdiocese of Dublin.

The Circuit Criminal Court heard he later met the archbishop to personally apologise.

He admitted stealing €2.8 million over a four-year period up to 2010 from seven client accounts at his family law firm, Sean O Ceallaigh & Company, based in Phibsborough, Dublin. 

Most of the money had been inherited by clients and was being held in accounts at the law firm. 

O Ceallaigh used the money to gamble on the stock market using contracts for difference and to buy investment properties and repay mortgages.

The crimes were uncovered during a routine Law Society examination of the firm's accounts in 2010 which revealed two missing files.

Gardaí said the Law Society accountant persisted in her inquiries over the missing files like "a dog with a bone" and O Ceallaigh eventually confessed later that year.

The court heard he had incurred losses through investing and panicked to try to recover mounting losses using clients' money.

He told gardaí the thefts were always intended to be a temporary measure but he lost his way and ran deeper and deeper into problems by taking more money.

The court heard the news of his crimes came as "a shattering blow" to his family who had run a well-respected law firm since 1958. 

O Ceallaigh had cooperated fully with the garda investigation and had never tried to conceal anything, the court heard. 

He said the intention was always to pay back the money. He was under huge pressure to pay back bank loans and was under the false belief that he could make back the money on the stock market using client funds, the court was told.

The judge remarked that CFDs were the ultimate in gambling.

His barrister Padraig Dwyer said there was no lavish spending on his lifestyle. 

He said due to his failures everything sprialled out of control at a time when the country was out of control. 

He said he was a man driven by Christian values who felt great shame for his family and was filled with remorse. 

He wanted to apologise to his clients, his family, his congregation and the community of Ireland and his colleagues. He said he had brought huge disgrace upon his head.

All the individuals had been repaid by the Law Society compensation fund, he added. The archdiocese was still at a loss of €750,000.

Over 20 references were handed in to the court, including some from national and international charities where he has volunteered for many years. 

Mr Dwyer said his client was a member of a Christian congregation for many years and had worked extensively from an early age with the underprivileged.

The maximum sentence for each of the offences is ten years in jail.

The case was adjourned to 18 July.