The case was heard at the Court of Appeal in Dublin today
A mother-of-two, who stole over €460,000 from a financial services firm to keep her ill husband's struggling business afloat, has had her 18-month jail term cut to 12 on appeal.
Lisa Lynch (33), a former director of AGL Logistics, whose home at Southfield, Ballinatubbert, Athy, Co Kildare, is due to be repossessed by the banks in April, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to stealing the money from Bibby Financial Services over a three-month period in 2013.
She was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment by Judge Martin Nolan on December 12 last. However, Judge Nolan deferred sentencing until the New Year with the result that she appeared before the Court of Appeal on bail, having not been in custody at any stage.
The Court of Appeal suspended the final six months of an 18-month term today, Thursday January 11, following a successful appeal, and Lynch was lead away to begin serving her sentence this evening.
Giving judgment in the three-judge court, Mr Justice George Birmingham said the circumstances in which Lynch found herself to be in charge of AGL Logistics, a Co Kildare based company involved in the transport business, were unusual.
Two days after the birth of her son, her husband was diagnosed with a rare form of mouth cancer. He had previously been the mainstay of the company he inherited from his father and, due to his illness, he became seriously depressed and withdrew from operations.
Lynch took over the business. It was accepted that she was “ill-equipped for the task” and really “out of her depth”. AGL was a struggling company and, with a view to keeping it afloat, Lynch issued 93 false invoices on foot of which payments were made by Bibby Financial Services which resulted in a loss to it of €460,660.
The Circuit Court heard that AGL and multinational Bibby had a deal whereby the larger company would purchase AGL's debt by offering short-term loans at high interest. When AGL was owed money by a customer, Bibby would give AGL 80 per cent of that debt, on the agreement that the money would be repaid whether or not AGL's customer paid their invoice.
Lycnh, a mother-of-two young children, was 33 at the time. Mr Justice Birmingham said she was likely to remain the breadwinner in the family due to her husband's difficulties. Her husband is on a back-to-work scheme, the family have substantial debts and the family home is due to be repossessed in April, the judge said.
When asked by Bibby what was happening, Lynch “talked them through what had occurred”. When the matter was investigated by gardaí, she made immediate admissions and entered an early guilty plea.
In the four years between the matter coming to light and coming to court, Lynch had secured work with her brother-in-law and, although the salary was relatively modest, she had on a weekly basis put €50 aside with a view to assembling a compensation fund.
Lynch's barrister, Lorcan Staines BL, pressed for non-custodial disposal. However, the Circuit Court judge felt the offence was of such seriousness that he couldn't accede to this request.
The sentencing judge commented that he could not detect the presence of personal greed. Her motive was to secure the survival of the company in a situation where she felt she had an obligation towards its 70 employees. He noted the mitigating factors as Lynch's co-operation, her admissions, early guilty plea and her lack of previous convictions.
In addition to those mitigating factors referred to by the sentencing judge, Mr Staines said there was also Lynch's efforts at recompense, the loss of reputation, the delay of four years in the matter coming to court and the “extraordinary damage” that would be caused to Lynch's family by imprisoning her for 18 months.
Mr Justice Birmingham said the Court of Appeal would have liked to have seen a headline figure nominated by the sentencing judge before applying a discount for mitigation. It was particularly desirable in cases where there were significant mitigating factors present.
He said the Court of Appeal agreed with Mr Staines that having a pending prosecution hanging over one's head was a matter of some substance. For someone who had not previously come before the court, the fact a prosecution was pending was likely to be a source of anxiety.
Furthermore, he said the €8,000 that had been saved by Lynch for compensation, while small, was a significant sum for a family in straightened circumstances and her efforts over a four year period indicated genuine remorse.
Mr Justice Birmingham said the failure to identify a headline sentence coupled with the fact there was no mention of Lynch's efforts to assemble a compensation fund, persuaded the Court of Appeal, “not without hesitation”, that it should intervene.
He said the court agreed with the Circuit Court judge that it was a serious case involving a course of wrongdoing, duplicity and criminality. It could not be forgotten, Mr Justice Birmingham said, that the case involved the theft of almost half a million euro over a significant period in a systemic fashion.
Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice John Edwards and Mr Justice John Hedigan, said the court would sentence Lynch to 18 months imprisonment but would suspend the final six months.
Lynch was lead away to begin serving her sentence that evening. The court heard that she wanted to begin serving her sentence immediately, rather than having to go home again before being sent to jail.