A former school principal who took almost €100,000 from his former school’s accounts to feed a chronic gambling addiction, was given a fully suspended 20 month jail sentence on Friday.
Father of three Stephen Condon, The Grange, Raheen, Limerick City, admitted stealing €93,000 from St John the Baptist National School, Garryowen, where he had been the school’s principal, in a “spectacular breach of trust”, the sentencing judge said.
The thefts were discovered in 2016 when the school board became suspicious that money was missing and a full audit of the school’s accounts was carried out.
Condon, (43), immediately admitted misappropriating the funds to fed his gambling addiction, which had “spiraled out of control”.
Condon was charged with 109 counts of theft totalling €93,000, with each count carrying a maximum 10-year jail sentence, pleaded guilty to 11 sample counts at Limerick Circuit Criminal Court.
Abuse of power
He stole the money from the school’s bank and credit union accounts in increments of between €400 and €2,000 between September 2012 and July 2016.
Imposing sentence Friday, Judge Tom O’Donnell said Condon was “a teacher who had risen through the ranks to become principal of St. John de Baptist” who “abused his position as principal”.
The judge said Condon “resigned as principal”.
“He left down the school he loved to teach at, as well as his colleagues, students and the whole community”.
Condon, who has been teaching in another school for the past four years, was arrested on January 1st, 2021.
“It appeared the reason for the thefts was a severe gambling addiction, he had also used his family’s savings to feed the addiction; his marriage failed because of it, but following (marriage) counseling, it is back on track,” said the judge.
“No one knew how chronic his addiction had become, and with the help of his family all of the money has been paid back to the school so there has been no financial loss.”
The judge said that a “long and insightful” report by the probation service highlighted how Condon’s gambling addiction had “completely spiraled out of control”.
Judge O’Donnell said Condon carried out the thefts with “premeditation and deviousness”, and he said the thefts were “a spectacular breach of trust by a principal of a school who had access to the school’s accounts”.
The judge said he had to weigh up the aggravating nature of Condon’s offending against his “early admission of guilt and genuine remorse”.
He also noted Condon’s “fall from grace” and the “expressions of revulsion from society”, as well as “the devastation to his family dynamics because of his actions”.
The judge noted Condon has appeared to have made an “extremely impressive recovery from his addiction, and he is now on the straight and narrow”.
Money paid back
Several testimonials provided to the court in support of Condon described him as a “good” “decent” “dedicated family man” who had “admitted serious mistakes and serious breaches of trust”, and who had “taken steps to rehabilitate himself”.
All of the money was paid back to the school by Condon with the help of family members, the court heard.
“It would appear he (Condon) has redeemed himself. Thankfully the school was not at a loss,” the judge said.
In considering “a headline sentence of two and half years”, the judge said that after he had taking into account all of the factors of the case, the “appropriate sentence” was 20 months, which he fully suspended for a period of 20 months.
Judge O’Donnell said: “Unfortunately this court has seen the fallout from people’s addictions, whether it is drugs, alcohol or, in this case, gambling, which destroys their lives, and has catastrophic impact on the lives of those closest to them”.
Condon, who sat in the dock wearing a suit, walked free from the court but with a warning from the judge “to be of good behaviour for the next 20 months” or face the possibility of having his suspended sentence activated.