Woman who stole €270k from employers has appeal dismissed as sentence deemed "lenient"

Donna Magee
Donna Magee

A woman jailed for stealing more than a quarter-of-a-million euro from a firm of solicitors she worked for has lost an appeal against sentence, with the Court of Appeal viewing her 18-month jail term as "lenient".

Donna Magee (47), with an address in Holyfields, Dungannon, Co Tyrone, had pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to stealing in excess of €270,000 from her then employers, O'Mara Geraghty McCourt Solicitors.

She was sentenced to three years imprisonment with the final 18 months suspended by Judge Martin Nolan on March 31, 2017.

Magee lost an appeal against the severity of her sentence today, which came on for hearing some six weeks after it was imposed.

Giving judgment in the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice Alan Mahon said that the mother-of-one, while engaged as a financial controller at the solicitors firm from 2008 to 2009, stole €270,597 by transferring monies from an account in the practice to a personal account.

A sum of €173,000 was subsequently recovered from the bank through civil proceedings, the judge said.

In 2014, she served a nine-month sentence in Northern Ireland over a £100,000 VAT fraud dating back to 2010. She also had an earlier fraud conviction in Northern Ireland from 2002, the judge said.

Dismissing her appeal, Mr Justice Mahon said the fact that Magee had recently served a nine-month sentence was referred to by the judge and it was therefore understood to have been considered by him and factored into the discount for mitigation, contrary to what had been submitted by Magee's lawyers.

Mr Justice Mahon said it would be difficult to understand why a nine-month sentence for a six-figure VAT fraud would warrant less than an 18-month prison term for this offence.

He said there were stark diffrences between Magee's case and the case of 'Jacqueline Durcan'. Both cases involved the defrauding of monies, including client monies in solicitors firms, both involved sums of almost a quarter-of-a-million euro and both were mothers: Durcan a mother-of-five and Magee a mother-of-one. 

Mr Justice Mahon said Durcan had no previous convictions while Magee had two, including significant previous convictions for fraud.

The loss was fully compensated in 'Durcan' by reason of her own efforts but in Magee's case the partial recovery was as a result of actions taken by the firm of solicitors rather than on Magee's part.

Mr Justice Mahon said it was "sad to hear" that Magee's 14-year-old daughter was restricted by her mother's incarceration. Nevertheless, incarceration can rarely be avoided simply on this basis, the judge said.

He said a net custodial sentence of 18 months for the €270k fraud was "lenient" in the view of the court.

Mr Justice Mahon, who sat with Mr Jutice George Birmingham and Mr Justice John Hedigan, dismissed the appeal against sentence.