A man who stole €102,000 from the company he worked for in Co Donegal to give to men he met in online chat rooms has been jailed for one year.

Billy Mooney of St Peter's Terrace, Dungloe, took sums ranging from €2,000 to €19,800 over a two year period between 2014 and 2016.

The 52-year-old pleaded guilty to 18 charges of fraud and one of false accounting at Letterkenny Circuit Court. 

The court was told that Mooney stole the cash in a complex fraud at the company's Annagry outlet but that gardaí did not believe he spent a cent of the money on himself.

Instead he wired the money by Western Union Transfer to men he met online who claimed they had lost their jobs and whose families had become ill. 

Management at the company, known officially as the Templecrone Cooperative Agricultural Society Ltd (The Cope) and which employs over 100 people, were alerted to the fraud when Mr Mooney sent texts to another employee.

He told that person that he was in trouble, having become caught up in a scam and was in debt to the tune of up to €80,000 and was having to borrow the money to cover himself.

CEO of the company, Mark Sharkey, contacted gardaí believing there had been a major fraud at the outlet.

Detective Garda John Gallagher said Mooney took the money which was due to be deposited into an ATM at the Annagry branch of The Cope where he was located.

Through a series of cover-ups he was able to extract various sums of money but made it appear as if they were still on the company books.

In a victim impact statement, Mr Sharkey said the theft had put the company under severe pressure and it had struggled to survive.

During and since the theft, he said Mooney had never apologised to the company or his fellow workers and that he was out sick for a number of months after the theft came to light.

The court was told that none of the missing money has since been paid back to the company.

Barrister for the accused, John McLaughlin, said that Mooney got involved in chat rooms with other men and that in his mind he was in a romantic relationship.

"He was so caught up in this scam that it overrode everything else in his mind", he said.

"Not to excuse what he did but it was his twisted belief he was borrowing and not stealing."

Passing sentence, Judge John Aylmer said the fraud had come while the company was experiencing difficult trading circumstances and that it went on for a long time.

Mooney had worked at The Cope for almost 20 years, he said, he had been a trusted employee and there had been a serious breach of that trust.

However, he added that Detective Gallagher gave evidence that Mooney did not benefit financially from the scam and he accepted that he was remorseful and ashamed of his actions and that he came to court with no previous convictions.

"He was a vulnerable person and a soft target for these scams," said Judge Aylmer.