A FORMER solicitor from Macroom has been jailed for two years for the theft of over €275,000.
Mark Cronin of New St, Macroom, became so desperate after stealing the money from his clients that he started doing the Lotto in the hope of winning millions to pay off his debts, a court has heard.
He was jailed this week for two years for the theft of over €275,000 from four clients while operating a solicitor’s practice at Middle Square in Macroom. Cronin (40) pleaded guilty to six counts of theft and two counts of forgery on various dates between July 1st 2009 and December 15th 2013, at Cork Circuit Criminal Court.
Det Garda Tom O’Sullivan said the thefts first came to light in 2012 when a couple made a complaint to gardai about Cronin, who represented them in a house purchase.
They had handed over cheques for €30,000 and €40,000, as well as a bank draft for €100,000 to Cronin, only to discover the money was never paid over to the vendor’s solicitor.
The couple contacted a solicitor working with Cronin in his practice, Claire Mungovan, and she told them that she had already been in touch with the Law Society about him.
Det Garda O’Sullivan also told how another couple had handed over €25,000 (€17,000 in a bank draft and €8,000 in cash) to Cronin to pay the stamp duty on a house they were buying. However, they were contacted by the Revenue Commissioners who told them they had no record of any of the money ever being paid, and that they owed Revenue over €24,000.
Cronin also stole over €79,000 from another couple when he altered and forged bank drafts relating to their purchase of a house, while he also took over €2,000 from another client. He was reported to the Law Society and the night before officers from the Law Society were due to carry out an audit of his practice in April 2010, his office in Middle Square burnt down, the court heard.
Det Garda O’Sullivan said Cronin made full admissions when he was arrested in relation to each of the thefts and said he used the money to fund the running of several pubs.
‘He was running a pub in Macroom which was very trendy with young people and he later became involved in leasing two pubs in Cork city,’ he said. Cronin told gardai that he was using the money to pay wages, breweries and other bills arising from his operation of the three pubs.
‘The money was used to shore up the losses in the pubs. He had a lot of temporary staff and he was very generous with his payments to them,’ said Det Garda O’Sullivan.
Cronin was much more comfortable running the pubs rather than working as a solicitor, he said.
He became so desperate at one stage he used to lock up his pub in Macroom and go drinking and then do the Lotto in the hope of winning millions to pay back the monies that he owed.
Det Garda O’Sullivan said that all four of Cronin’s clients had had their monies re-imbursed by the Law Society and none of them were out of pocket as a result of his fraud.
Defence counsel, Marjorie Farrelly SC, pleaded for leniency and pointed out that Cronin had no previous convictions and a probation report found he was at a low risk of re-offending.
She also pointed out that he had pleaded guilty and by doing so, saved the State the cost and time of what could have been a very complex case with very technical evidence.
‘He also wishes to apologise,’ she said. ‘He is conscious that he has let down his profession and its high standards, that he has let down his clients and that he has let down his parents.’
Judge Sean O Donnabain accepted all of these as mitigating factors, while he also accepted that Cronin had come from a very respectable and supportive family in Macroom.
‘This is a very sad day for his parents – they are very honourable people trying to do the best for their son and not a scintilla of blame attaches to them over all of this,’ he said.
‘This young man had a very high standard of education and no previous convictions and comes before the court on very serious charges. In mitigation, he has shown remorse,’ he said.
Judge O Donnabhain said that they were very serious offences and what was most serious about them was the fact that they went on for so long – up to four years.
He pointed out that Cronin’s victims had been re-imbursed, but the cost was borne by the Irish people and Cronin himself did not have to pay for his crimes out of his own pocket.
‘For him to deal with his clients as he did was nothing short of outrageous – there is no way he can avoid a prison term, his deception went on far too long,’ said Judge O Donnabhain.
He said had Cronin contested the charges and lost, he would have jailed him for six years, but because of his plea, he was sentencing him to four years in jail with the final two years suspended.