A Dublin woman who stole almost €9,000 from a vulnerable lady she was caring for during lockdown has been jailed for 18 months.
Lisa O'Connor (45) of St Brandon's, Crumlin pleaded guilty to three sample charges of theft representing 90 transactions made with the elderly woman's bank card on dates between March and July 2020.
She further pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to possessing over €7,000 worth of heroin for sale or supply at her home on February 3rd, 2021.
Passing sentence on Wednesday, Judge Martin Nolan said O'Connor had taken advantage of a vulnerable, elderly person in what he described as a “huge breach of trust”.
Judge Nolan said O'Connor had also betrayed the woman's family, who had trusted her to care for their mother.
O'Connor had worked as a carer for the late Margaret Downey and her husband for a number of years. Mrs Downey suffered from dementia and died in September 2020; she was pre-deceased by her husband.
Garda David Morris told Pieter Le Vert BL, prosecuting, that O'Connor had initially got the job as carer through a placement agency, but when she lost the agency position the family were so pleased with her that they hired her privately.
In total, O'Connor worked for the Downeys for almost three years and was paid €250 a week. Ms Downey's daughter Sue Walker paid her an additional €70 in cash per week.
The court heard that Ms Walker, who was her mother's official carer, suffered a foot injury and wasn't able to be present for her mother as much as she would have liked.
Ms Walker had given O'Connor her mother's AIB bank card so that she could do the shopping during lockdown.
Gda Morris said an incident occurred in August 2020 while Mrs Downey was in hospital, after which O'Connor was asked to cease her employment.
Mrs Downey's children opened up her correspondence from AIB and noticed 90 transactions, totalling €8,862, which they suspected were unauthorised.
The gardaí were informed and O'Connor was arrested. She initially told gardaí she had no idea about the unauthorised transactions, but then accepted responsibility.
She told gardaí that she was “just in debt” and hadn't thought it amounted to that much. O'Connor said one of her family members was at risk and they were under pressure, “so that's what I had to do”.
“A life was at stake, that's all I'm saying,” she said, adding that she never meant to hurt the family and would repay the money.
“They're such a nice family. They trusted me and I broke that trust,” O'Connor told gardaí.
The court heard that on February 3rd, 2021, gardaí obtained a warrant to search O'Connor's home, which they did along with members of the garda drugs squad and a sniffer dog.
The dog detected drugs inside a vacuum cleaner which was found to contain packages of heroin amounting to over 50 grammes, with a street value of €7,120. Cash totalling €1,280 was also seized, which O'Connor said was from the sale of heroin.
Marc Thompson Grolimund BL, defending, said O'Connor co-operated completely with gardaí and made full admissions.
“She was caught red-handed with drugs, but she threw her hands up straight away,” he said.
The court heard that O'Connor has 11 previous convictions, nine of which related to a road traffic offence in 2010 which disqualified her from driving.
Mr Grolimund said although it was too little too late, his client had written a letter of apology to the family of the late Margaret Downey. Several of Mrs Downey's children were present in court, and a victim impact statement was handed into the judge.
Mr Grolimund said O'Connor suffered from anxiety and when her medication was stopped during Covid, she started self-medicating with heroin.
Judge Nolan sentenced O'Connor to two sentences of 18 months each relating to the counts of theft and the drugs offence, both to run concurrently.