A FORMER book-keeper for Lisavaird Co-Op who admitted stealing over €74,000 in a four-year period was given a three-year suspended sentence yesterday as it was confirmed that she had paid back the money in full.
Melissa Harte, 43, of Frehanes, Roscarbery, County Cork, was arraigned yesterday at Cork Circuit Criminal Court and she pleaded guilty to ten sample counts on the indictment. Those sample charges referred to the dishonest appropriation of cash sums from €220 to €1,750 from Lisavaird Co-Op in Clonakilty on various dates from late 2013 until late 2017.
Garda John Dineen said that in November 2017 an anomaly in the accounts was brought to the attention of management at Lisavaird Co-Op and gardaí were alerted early in 2018.
The first matter that came to their attention was that a customer account had been altered. Monies were being paid to the co-op by the customer for agricultural goods but in effect, Melissa Harte, was taking the money being lodged to the co-op for her own use.
In respect of that customer’s account, a total of €19,702 was paid by the customer but never lodged by Harte for the benefit of the co-op.
The second method of defrauding the co-op by Harte involved their internal system of cash advances to employees. Using her knowledge of PIN numbers throughout the co-op, Melissa Harte stole €55,100.
The total amount of money taken by the defendant was €74,812.
Defence barrister, Patrick O’Riordan, said the accused had repaid all of the monies taken.
Garda Dineen said that as part of the book-keeping work done by Harte for the co-op she used to prepare monthly ledgers of people who owed money to the co-op. She started removing accounts from that so that the customer was repaying the co-op but Harte was not lodging their payments. The customer would have believed he was repaying the co-op and clearing his account.
“The money was taken from the co-op and not from the customer,” Garda Dineen said.
Harte, who wept during the sentencing hearing, is a mother of three. Her barrister said the case coming to light had brought an end to her marriage. Mr O’Riordan BL said there were no trappings of wealth as a result of her offences and that she was in financial difficulties throughout the period of offending.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said, “There was no great ingenuity, she just used her position. She was in a pivotal position to take the money. There is no doubt cases like these are difficult to prove.
“She has avoided the difficulties of a lengthy trial. That is to be taken into consideration. Her plea is a most significant matter. I accept what the guard says, that she was cooperative, it cost her her job which is her own fault.
“She has paid the total back. She has no previous convictions. She is in employment now by a company aware of her background.
“I think the appropriate sentence is three years which I will suspend for three years.” Brendan Kelly prosecution barrister said a representative of Lisavaird Co-Op was in court yesterday for the sentencing hearing but did not wish to address the court in terms of victim impact.