A legal executive for former solicitor Michael Lynn has told his trial she signed another solicitor's name on undertakings at his instruction, because there was “fear” there and she was under “horrendous” pressure at the time.
Mr Lynn (55), of Millbrook Court, Redcross, Co Wicklow is on trial accused of the theft of around €27 million from seven financial institutions. He has pleaded not guilty to 21 counts of theft in Dublin between October 23rd, 2006 and April 20th, 2007.
It is the prosecution’s case that Mr Lynn obtained multiple mortgages on the same properties, in a situation where banks were unaware that other institutions were also providing finance.
The financial institutions involved are Bank of Ireland, National Irish Bank (later known as Danske Bank), Irish Life and Permanent, Ulster Bank, ACC Bank, Bank of Scotland Ireland and Irish Nationwide Building Society (INBS).
On Tuesday, former legal executive with Michael Lynn & Co solicitors Liz Doyle, gave evidence. She told John Berry BL, prosecuting, that she worked as a legal executive in the firm.
Ms Doyle told the trial there was “huge pressure” in the office. “There was never a day where you could switch off,” she said. “You were on call 24/7. Constant phone calls, constant emails. It was difficult.”
Ms Doyle was brought through a mix of documents, including statements of affairs and solicitor's undertakings. In a number of these, she agreed that she signed the name Fiona McAleenan. Ms McAleenan was a solicitor in the practice at the time.
Ms Doyle said she signed Ms McAleenan's name “at the instruction of Mr Lynn”. She said he told her he had spoken with Ms McAleenan and Ms McAleenan had authorised Ms Doyle to sign her signature.
Ms Doyle said she also signed Kinsella Mitchell and Associates' signature, again at the instruction of Mr Lynn. Kinsella Mitchell and Associates were auditors for Michael Lynn and Co solicitors.
Ms Doyle said she did not apply the Kinsella Mitchell stamp to those same documents and did not know who did. The court has heard evidence from John Kinsella that the stamp used was not his company stamp.
When asked by Mr Berry why she signed Kinsella Mitchell, Ms Doyle said, “because I followed Mr Lynn's instructions”. When asked why she followed instructions, she replied: “Because there was a fear there at this stage, so I followed his instructions”.
“The pressure in the office was absolutely horrendous at that time,” she said. “We were working long hours from early morning to late evenings and the pressure was still there when you got home. It was just huge pressure.”
Ms Doyle was also shown a document that was sent to Irish Nationwide Building Society (INBS) with the letterhead 'Fiona McAleenan Solicitors'. Ms Doyle agreed she signed the letter in Ms McAleenan's name.
She said Mr Lynn “presented” her with the letterhead. “I wasn't too happy to be honest, because I knew it wasn't correct,” she said. “I sent it on the instruction of Mr Lynn.”
Ms Doyle told the trial she was “struggling” at the time. She said her husband's business collapsed in 2006 and “there was pressure there”.
The couple had a mortgage on their family home in Maynooth and Ms Doyle said they re-mortgaged a property they owned in Cabra to put money into the business. They then took out another loan of €600,000 to pay their mortgages.
Ms Doyle agreed with prosecution counsel that she knew what she was doing in relation to signing the documents was wrong.
When asked again why she did it, she said she had already explained the pressure she was under. “I was running on empty,” she said. “I was under huge pressure and I signed them.”
Cross-examining Ms Doyle, Paul Comiskey O'Keeffe BL, defending, said Mr Lynn “does not accept he instructed you to put Fiona McAleenan's signature on any document”. Ms Doyle disagreed.
He put it to Ms Doyle that “there was a culture in the firm where people were signing each other's names on documents”. Ms Doyle said she couldn't recall.
Mr Comiskey O'Keeffe put it to Ms Doyle that she said the reason she signed the documents was because of the pressure and that she also “threw in something about being afraid of Mr Lynn”.
Defence counsel noted Ms Doyle had also said she believed she had Ms McAleenan's permission to sign her signature.
“So the pressure, the horrendous pressure as you said repeatedly, can't have been the reason you signed it,” Mr Comiskey O'Keeffe said, later adding: “They can't both be true.” Ms Doyle did not accept this.
She agreed she “never” mentioned to Ms McAleenan that she was signing her signature.
Ms Doyle agreed that three of her family members worked for Mr Lynn and that he sang at her wedding. She said she earned a “good salary” but disputed the defence's submission that it was €95,000 per annum including bonus. She said that as well as the homes in Maynooth and Cabra at that time, she also had a property in Kilcock.
She agreed with defence counsel that she paid a deposit on an apartment in Portugal and a deposit on a further two apartments in Budapest, but that she pulled out of the sales and received the deposits back. She denied that she had a 4x4 Jeep that she drove at weekends, saying they had a family carrier.
She said after the High Court froze Mr Lynn's assets; she had €600,000 in loan monies in the company's client account. She agreed she was entitled to this money and that she received money from the Law Society compensation fund, but said she couldn't recall the figure.
She said she did not recall making a claim from the Solicitor Mutual Defence Fund, as she said in a statement to gardaí, saying she probably meant the compensation fund. “My husband dealt with all that, I was unwell at the time,” she told the court.
The court heard that Irish Life And Permanent took a civil case against Ms Doyle and Ms McAleenan, during which Ms McAleenan alleged Ms Doyle was “part and parcel of the fraud perpetuated by Mr Lynn”, Mr Comiskey O'Keeffe said.
“I can't recall,” Ms Doyle replied. She agreed she does not accept those allegations.
The trial continues before Judge Martin Nolan and the jury.