A former assistant manager at FÁS has been sentenced to four years in prison, with the last two suspended for defrauding the agency of over €600,000 between 2003 and 2008.

James Brooke Tyrrell, 54, of Church Road, Greystones, Co Wicklow, had pleaded guilty to nine sample counts.

Judge Pat McCartan suspended the final two years of the sentence, but said the court must send out a message to others in a position of trust that if they breach that trust, they must expect the full rigour of the law to be brought to bear on them.

Earlier, the Circuit Criminal Court was told there is nothing left of the €620,000 which was obtained by deception.

The court heard Brooke Tyrrell, who was on a salary of €50,000 a year, was living a lifestyle that could not have been supported by his salary.

He spent the money on foreign trips, home improvements and driving a better car. There is no money left, the court heard and FÁS remains out of pocket.

Brooke Tyrrell was an assistant manager in video production at FÁS and had been with the agency since the 1980s.

The court was told he created false tendering processes for video production work and then awarded the tenders to companies that had been set up by him to facilitate the fraud.

He then issued invoices in the names of these companies and was given cheques by FÁS, which he lodged to his bank account.

The names of the companies were very similar to legitimate companies that had previously been awarded contracts by the agency.

The fraud was discovered when directors of Yard Media Ltd - a company that had previously been awarded a lot of contracts for work by FÁS - noticed that the number of contracts they had received had significantly diminished.

When a director made inquiries she discovered a tender had been awarded to a company with the almost identical name of The Yard Media.

When she asked for a copy of the invoice submitted by the other company, she discovered it was almost identical to her own company except for the registered place of business.

She complained to FÁS and an internal investigation was set up.

The court was told that Brooke Tyrrell voluntarily admitted he had engaged in fraudulent transactions when he was confronted.

The court was also told that FÁS has indicated it is going to pursue Brooke Tyrrell for the return of his pension.

The Revenue Commissioners are also treating the money he defrauded as income on which tax is payable.

Judge McCartan said this kind of crime was becoming all the more noticeable in recent times.

People were stealing from their employers and breaching trust and leaving their employers at a considerable loss, he sdaid.

He described this case as ‘shockingly sad’ and he said it was his view that everyone deserved one chance.

But he said a wholly suspended sentence was not open to him in a case like this.

He said given the prevalence of this type of crime, the significant breach of trust and the very skilful sustained way Brooke Tyrrell had put together bogus companies and maintained the charade for five years, he had no option but to impose a prison sentence.

He said a message must be sent out from the court to others in a position of trust that if they breach that trust, and take from their employers with little or no prospect of putting right what they have done, then they must expect the full rigour of the law to be brought to bear on them.

The court was also told he had cooperated fully with gardaí and had pleaded guilty at the earliest possible opportunity. He has no previous convictions.

His lawyer Breffni Gordon told the court he was viewed as an upstanding member of the community.

Brooke Tyrrell had readily accepted his wrongdoing and had written a letter expressing his remorse, apologising and acknowledging the damage he had done to his colleagues in FÁS and to his wife and two sons.

The court heard he has since set up his own video production company and is trying 'very, very hard' to make it work in the current difficult climate.

Two witnesses gave character evidence on his behalf.