A hospital accounts worker who stole over €670,000 from the State over a 16-year period has been jailed for two years.
Mary Kennedy (46) came up with a fraudulent scheme in which she arranged for cheques to be made out to doctors who were not actually employed by St Columcille's Hospital in Loughlinstown, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard on Monday. She then diverted the funds into her own account.
When the hospital system was computerised in 2019, Kennedy arranged for the money to be paid into the account of her brother-in-law, Paul Leeson.
She told gardaí that Leeson believed the money belonged to a colleague who was going through domestic abuse issues. Leeson paid the money back into Kennedy's account and made a profit of €5000 from this arrangement, Garda Michael Murphy told the court.
Kennedy, with an address at Cullentra, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, pleaded guilty to 16 sample counts of theft and two counts of fraud in an unknown location in the State between 2004 and 2020.
Leeson (48), with an address at Tipper Road, Naas, Co Kildare, pleaded guilty to one count of possessing the proceeds of crime on dates between June 2019 and October 2020.
Passing sentence, Judge Martin Nolan said Leeson's had “succumbed to a small amount of greed” but that his culpability in the crime was low. He handed down a two-year sentence and suspended it in full.
In relation to Kennedy, Judge Nolan acknowledged that there was very good mitigation before the court. Kennedy has no previous convictions, a history of health problems, was a loving mother to her two children and came from a close-knit family, the court heard.
Judge Nolan said he believed Kennedy was a good person. “But good people do bad things,” he said. “The court has to recognise that. This defendant, over a prolonged period of time, stole an awful lot of money.”
The judge said Kennedy must be imprisoned but that he would hand down the most lenient sentence that he could, which he set at two years. Kennedy wept and hugged her husband after the sentence was handed down.
Gda Murphy told Derek Cooney BL, prosecuting, that Kennedy's actions first came to light in November 2020, when an audit of St Columcille's revealed payments had been made to doctors and other medical professionals who were not on the hospital payroll.
When questioned by her employer, Kennedy broke down and confessed, the court heard. When interviewed by gardaí, she made further admissions.
The court heard that bank records only went back as far as 2004, but Kennedy was employed at the hospital from 1998. She told gardaí she couldn't remember exactly when she started stealing. No money was ever recovered by the HSE, the court heard.
Roisin Lacey SC, defending, said that Kennedy started stealing as a result of an accidental payment and, once she started, she couldn't stop. Over the years, she made out hundreds of cheques in the names of 32 medical professionals – some of whom worked at the hospital for a brief period, others who were entirely fictitious.
Gda Murphy agreed that there were no indications of wealth associated with Kennedy. It remains unclear what she spent the money on, the court heard.
Kennedy wept as Ms Lacey described how her two children were “little miracles” in her life – born after years of believing she could not conceive. She has health issues and has suffered from anxiety and stress, according to a Probation Services report handed in to court.
Kennedy was relieved when the offending came to light and is ashamed and remorseful of her actions, defence counsel said. She is currently on administrative leave from her job but is willing to work for free to pay back the money, the court heard. She has no savings, the court heard.