Former solicitor accused of defrauding 91-year-old woman out of her home
The second week of the trial of former solicitor Thomas Byrne has heard further allegations of him defrauding clients, including an 91-year-old woman, out of their homes.
Mr Byrne (aged 47) of Walkinstown Road, Crumlin is accused of theft and fraud offences totalling €51.8m.
Most of the counts allege he transferred client’s homes into his name and then used them as collateral for bank loans.
He has pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 51 counts of theft, forgery, using forged documents and deception.
Today, Vera McGrane testified she knew Mr Byrne for many years after meeting him at her nephew’s 21st birthday party and that he acted for her in three house sales.
Ms McGrane said her mother, Kathleen Fahy was also a client of the accused before she died in June 2007 at the age of 91.
Prosecuting counsel Remy Farrell SC showed the witness a Land Registry document which appeared to show that Kathleen Fahy had sold the family home to Mr Byrne for €380,000, a month before she died. The document was signed with the name of the deceased.
Ms McGrane said her mother could not have signed the document as she was very ill at the time and confined to bed in Ms McGrane’s home in Cork.
The witness said that at that stage her mother needed Ms McGrane’s assistance in signing documents because her hand trembled. Ms McGrane said she helped her mother sign all her documents and that she never signed a deed of transfer to Mr Byrne.
She said she never left her mother’s side in her final days and that the house was transferred over to Mr Byrne “in his dreams”.
Ms McGrane agreed to a defence suggestion that she had met Mr Byrne socially once in a restaurant. However she denied that she saw him regularly between 2004 and 2006.
Defence counsel Gerardine Small BL put it to Ms McGrane that she met the accused regularly and stayed in his house when she came to Dublin.
Counsel suggested they often went to restaurants such as the Lobster Pot and Roly’s in Ballsbridge.
The witness denied this and also denied collecting the deeds of transfer for her mother’s house and bringing them back down to Cork for her mother to sign.
Ms Fahy’s grandson Conan Budd, who is also a solicitor, said he knew the accused from university but had not seen him in years until he was trying to resolve his grandmother’s estate.
He told Mr Farrell that he never uncovered any payment of €380,000 from Mr Byrne when he was acting as executor for the estate.
He also said that a few months after his grandmother’s death, the family got a offer of €380,000 for the house from a Paul Dennehy. They decided to accept and Mr Byrne was contacted to arrange the transfer.
Mr Budd said both he and the auctioneer had trouble getting a response from the accused. He said that when he did get him on the phone, Mr Byrne responded that he had a client who would pay €430,000 for the house.
The family decided to accept this offer. However when a family member went to Mr Byrne’s office to speak to him, he found the practice had been shut down by the Law Society.
Mr Budd said they then realised “all was not well” with Mr Byrne’s practice. He said he was also told by the Law Society that EBS and IIB financial institutions were both “claiming an interest” in the house.
Brendan Dunne said he was a close friend of Mr Byrne’s since childhood and that the solicitor had prepared the will of his late mother, Patricia Dunne.
Mr Dunne was shown a deed of transfer document which purported to state that Ms Dunne had sold the family home to Mr Byrne for €240,000. He said that the signature on the document bore no resemblance to his mother’s.
His brother Michael Dunne also said his mother’s signature was completely different to the one on the deed of transfer. He said that his mother’s signature did not use joined up letters and was “bold”, unlike the signature on the document.
Dermot Naughton told the court that Mr Byrne had acted for him in the purchase of two houses, one for him and one for his mother.
He said he later found that Mr Byrne had transferred ownership of the homes into his own name and that there had been two loans registered against them.
One of the properties was purportedly transferred to Mr Byrne six says after Mr Naughton purchased it. Mr Naughton denied transferring the properties or securing loans on them.
The trial continues before Judge Patrick McCartan and a jury of seven men and three women.
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