Woman jailed for strealing €116,000 from Hepatitis C support group
A former director of a Hepatitis C support group who stole over €116,000 from the organisation will begin a two year prison sentence next month.
Bernadette Warnock (63) stole the money while operating the finances of Positive Action Ltd which was set up in 1994 to help women who contracted Hepatitis C through contaminated blood product in maternity hospitals.
Positive Action had 730 members and received the majority of its funding from the HSE. It was closed down in 2014 following a HSE audit.
Warnock, who herself suffers from Hepatitis C after contracting it at the age of 24, has four previous convictions for forging cheques from her employer in 1990.
Today Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard Warnock's health had deteriorated in recent months, leaving her house bound, and a stay was put on her sentence until November 8 to allow her attend for a hospital appointment.
Warnock of Garrettstown, Dunshaughlin, Co Meath pleaded guilty to 71 counts of theft and fraud between 2009 and 2011 totalling €116,226.
Judge Melanie Greally had adjourned sentencing after hearing evidence in the case in March to allow Warnock gather compensation. A total of €65,500 was brought to court by Warnock, from a combination of her savings and an inheritance, leaving €52,000 outstanding.
The court heard Positive Action was in liquidation, with one of the main creditors being the HSE.
Judge Greally will decide where the funds should go on the next date and said she would like Hepatitis C sufferers to benefit. She said the court would have to consider the appropriateness of directing funds to the HSE in terms of the liquidation of the charity.
Judge Greally said the offences were “an enormous betrayal of trust” and said: “Acts like these cast doubt and suspicion over the charity sector.”
She said that the court could not disregard the fact that in the midst of her offending Warnock had preformed much laudable work. She said her loss of reputation had been entirely merited but the court could take it into account.
Judge Greally imposed a three year sentence and suspended the final 12 months.
Defence counsel, Ronan Kennedy BL, handed in testimonials from family and friends on Warnock's behalf. He said he had been instructed to offer an apology and said that Warnock recognised the consequences and impact of her actions.
“It is an under statement to say she is deeply ashamed,” he told Judge Greally.
He said Warnock did not shy away from the aggravating features in this case such as the sum of money involved, the protracted time period, the breech of trust and the fact it was public money.
He said in mitigation it was not a sophisticated crime and she had made no real effort to cover her trail. He said she had put in place measures to prevent her taking further money before the offences came to light and had made full admissions.
Mr Kennedy said it was difficult to see how she could have been more co-operative.
He handed in medical reports and said she came before the court with health issues which have significantly deteriorated over the past few months.
Counsel asked that she be given credit for her effort to rehabilitate over the last two years during intensive therapy. He said she had done as much as she could to make sure this would not happen again. He said what she had done has taken a significant toll on her.
Mr Kennedy said Warnock's fall from good standing was a rapid and public affair and she suffered a significant fall from grace “hitting all the branches of the tree on the way down.”