Lawyers for Kelli Kilpatrick (34) told Judge Martin Nolan at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that in 2017 Kilpatrick began offering to arrange discounted holidays in order to make friends.
The Dublin woman used her experience working in the corporate travel industry to get cut price package holidays and travel breaks.
Detective Garda John Tuthill told Jane Murphy BL, prosecuting, that word spread through friends of the holiday deals and the defendant became busier and busier until things “got out of control”.
The holiday plans included cruise trips, continental breaks, long haul flights and typical package holidays in Spain and Portugal.
Kilpatrick was unable to keep track of payments and began using deposits paid by customers to complete the costs of others' bookings.
Some holidays were only partially paid for, or not booked at all.
In some cases Kilpatrick falsified receipts and confirmations of bookings.
Holiday makers found out there were problems in advance of their getaways while others ended up in foreign destinations only to discover then that hotel rooms or return flights were not booked.
Dt Gda Tuthill agreed with defending counsel John Griffin BL that Kilpatrick contacted gardaí about the scam because she wanted to “clear her conscience” and that she co-operated fully with the subsequent investigation.
She told investigators that she had begun offering the holidays as a way to make friends after returning to Dublin from a “toxic relationship” in the UK.
Dt Gda Tuthill said that was no evidence of Kilpatrick using the money to fund an extravagant lifestyle and that she never made any money herself.
“It was a web she couldn't get out of,” he said.
He said that in interview Kilpatrick expressed remorse and acknowledged the distress she had caused to the victims.
Kilpatrick of St Aongus Estate, Tallaght, was charged with 54 counts of theft committed between April 2017 and August 2018.
She subsequently pleaded guilty to eight sample counts, with other counts taken into consideration.
Dt Gda Tuthill said the total amount of money stolen was €28,904, with the amounts taken from individuals ranging from €300 up to €1,900.
Mr Griffin told the court that his client was previously involved in a toxic violent relationship in Ireland.
When this ended she went to the UK where she again became involved in a similar type of relationship.
Mr Griffin said that when Kilpatrick returned to Dublin in 2017 she had no friends and no confidence, was trying to start her life over and was finding it difficult. He said she found she could connect with people and make them happy by helping to get genuinely cheaper holidays.
He said that when the scheme became as busy as it did, his client lacked the business acumen to keep on top of it and became caught in a spiral of debt.
The court heard that Kilpatrick's only previous conviction is for the 2016 theft of £239,000 worth of mobile phones in Reading, England.
Mr Griffin said that at the time his client was working for Vodafone and was “put upon” by her then partner to take part in a scam by processing orders for phones.
He asked the court to show leniency and said his client has done everything she could to make amends.
He said she is ashamed of her actions and has lived a frugal life since in order to save up €25,000 which she had brought to court to offer to the victims.
He said that behind this offending Kilpatrick was a good person from a decent family. “She is truly sorry for the pain she has caused,” he said.
Judge Nolan said that Kilpatrick was “robbing Peter to pay Paul”. He said that the very fair evidence of the garda was that the accused was unlikely to reoffend.
Kilpatrick sobbed as Judge Nolan concluded that he would not jail her.
He suspended a three-year prison term on condition that the €25,000 be handed over and that a further €3,000 be collected and paid over in compensation in the next year.