Children's charity boss Nuala Magee avoids jail after swindling £50,000 for clothes, holidays and the greyhounds
The disgraced chief executive of a children's charity, who abused her position to swindle almost £50,000 to fund an extravagant lifestyle, has avoided being sent to jail.
Shamed fraudster Nuala Magee, 48, with the help of husband Declan Shannon, 44, ripped-off Lurgan charity Together 4 All - and spending some of the money on expensive clothes, holidays abroad and gambling trips to the greyhounds.
On Thursday a Craigavon Crown Court judge suspended her 18-month prison sentence for two years.
Judge Patrick Kinney told her he was only suspending the term because of the "exceptional circumstances" surrounding a previously undiagnosed "significant depressive disorder" and the impact her imprisonment would have on her youngest son.
Shannon, whose personal and business bank accounts were used to launder the swindled cash, also had his 12-month jail term suspended for the same period.
Last March, Magee, from Allengrove in Crumlin, pleaded guilty to a total of 29 offences including false accounting, transferring criminal property and a single charge of theft, all of which occurred on various dates between October 2008 and June 2011.
Meanwhile her husband, with the same address, admitted two charges of possessing criminal property.
Magee was the project manager, chief executive and secretary of the now-defunct Together 4 All children's charity when she created numerous fake invoices amounting to some £48,266.
The money was paid into Shannon's personal and business bank accounts.
Since stealing the money, the fraudster couple had been living in Forde, north of Canberra in Australia.
But in February a judge ordered the pair to return to Northern Ireland or face arrest.
The charity was funded by an American company, Atlantic Philanthropies, who bankrolled it to the tune of $6.6 million in 2007 to implement a 10-year plan to better children's' futures through integrated education in mid-Ulster.
Magee created false invoices and along with a number of cheques from generous donations, diverted the money into the account of her husband and her unsuspecting son Niall Atkinson.
Atkinson (24), from Galwally Park in south Belfast, had faced one count of possessing £3,600 of criminal property but that was "left on the books" after Magee and Shannon admitted their offences.
Prosecuting lawyer Nicola Auret told the court how the stolen monies had been wasted on gambling trips to Drumbo Park greyhound track, expensive holidays abroad and shopping sprees.
The fraud was uncovered in 2010 when the charity held an audit of the internal accounts.
Sentencing the couple, Judge Kinney said it was clear Magee had been the "prime mover" and that her actions had lead to a "substantial loss to the charity which was established to improve the lives of children."
He said the offences had involved "planning and preparation," a breach of trust and the swindled money had been used "for personal gain."
Judge Kinney revealed he had a psychiatric report which indicated that at the time of the offences, Magee had been suffering from a "significant depressive disorder," a symptom of which was "poor decision making" and that she had been engaging in "excessive drinking as a coping mechanism."
He added that he did not think it necessary to describe her other problems but that it was clear to him that Magee's mental state "was and remains fragile."
Addressing Shannon, Judge Kinney said he played a lesser role and was not "directly involved" in the frauds "but he leant himself to receiving the proceeds of criminality."
In mitigation, the judge said he accepted that both had shown "genuine remorse and shame" for their actions and gave them credit from returning from Australia to face the court.
Outside the court, neither Shannon nor Magee would comment on whether the immigration authorities in Australia would let them back in.
Keeping hoods pulled over their heads as they struggled to get into Shannon's car, the couple remained silent when asked to comment on their suspended sentences.
Belfast Telegraph Digital