A woman who stole over €55,000 from her employer of almost 20 years will be sentenced next week at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.
Anita Gallagher (54) had been working as a receptionist for Dr John Peters at his practice in Clonee, Dublin 15, since 2001. Dr Peters became suspicious in 2019 that money had been stolen.
He discovered through his own investigation that Gallagher was regularly stealing the €60 fee that private patients of the practice were paying instead of adding the cash to the till. Gallagher had been taking an average of €8,000 a year from 2013 to 2019.
Detective Garda Bernard Connaughton told Rónán Prendergast BL, prosecuting, that Dr Peter’s wife was the practice manager and Gallagher’s offending behaviour often increased while she was away for prolonged periods, on occasion while the woman was in hospital receiving medical treatment.
Gallagher resigned from the practice in September 2019 after Dr Peters called her in for a meeting to discuss the findings of his own internal investigation. She immediately made admissions and apologised, but asked that her family not be told about it.
Her marriage of 28 years broke down when gardaí later called at her home in June 2020 to arrest her after Dr Peters reported the thefts. Gallagher now lives with her elderly father.
Gallagher, of Bramblefield Crescent, Littlepace, Blanchardstown, Dublin 15, pleaded guilty to eight sample charges of stealing from the practice, Littlepace Medical Centre, on dates between January 2013 and August 2019. She has no previous convictions.
Judge Melanie Greally adjourned the case to November 17, next and remanded Gallagher on continuing bail after she said she needed time to consider the documentation handed in from her defence team.
She noted that Gallagher was under “no financial pressure” motivating her to steal from her employer.
Judge Greally described it as a crime of “opportunism” over a sustained period of time, during which Gallagher stole “at a level where detection was going to be difficult”.
“She only stopped once she was detected,” Judge Greally said. She remanded Gallagher on continuing bail and adjourned the case to next week.
Det Gda Connaughton said Dr Peters provided gardaí with the relevant diaries from the practice, computer printouts and other documentation to support his investigation.
He told gardaí he started his investigation in 2019 after he noticed that his income from the practice was not what he had expected. It was Gallagher’s role to check patients in and take the relevant payments. He set up a meeting and she admitted that she had been stealing money from the practice.
A victim impact statement from Dr Peters and his wife, read into the record by Mr Prendergast, described Gallagher as having been “a close colleague and friend”. They said the fact that such a person could be so “devious” was “disgusting”.
The Peters said in their statement that there were occasions when Mrs Peters had to leave the practice for a number of days, due to bereavements or receiving medical treatment and Gallagher would re-assure her that she would take care of their practice in her absence.
It was on these occasions that her criminal activity actually increased.
They said the offending “left a terrible toll on us” and spoke of the financial difficulties the theft caused, but more that the “gross breach of trust” and Gallagher’s behaviour towards them is something that “can never be repaired”.
Det Gda Connaughton agreed with James Dwyer SC, defending that when Dr Peters put the allegations to Gallagher in September 2019, she immediately took responsibility and resigned.
In a subsequent text to them she apologised and said she was ashamed of her actions. In a follow-up email, she again took full responsibility but asked that her behaviour be kept confidential from her family “as they have done nothing wrong”.
Det Gda Connaughton agreed that Gallagher suggested that she pay back €250 a month to the Peters, but Dr Peters said that would be unacceptable to him. Gallagher’s father later fully re-paid the clinic.
He accepted that Gallagher had been working in the clinic for 19 years. That she was mother to two adult children and she has been living with her father since her marriage broke down.
Mr Dwyer handed in many testimonials describing Gallagher as “caring, supportive, genuine and kind-hearted”. She was also described as a good support to her father.
A psychological report concluded that she was a vulnerable person with generalised anxiety who was at a low risk of re-offending.
Mr Dwyer said his client hid her criminality from her family and they only discovered the truth in June 2020 when the gardaí called to their home to arrest her.
Counsel accepted that Gallagher’s crimes were “a gross breach of trust” and acknowledged that there was no explanation as to what motivated her to steal the money, as there may be in other cases such, as an addiction or gambling problem.
He asked Judge Greally to accept his client’s early guilty plea, her co-operation with the gardaí, the fact that the practice has since been fully re-imbursed and what she has lost as a result of her own behaviour.