Siblings who forged mum's will, causing ‘irrevocable split’ in family face prison
A brother and sister who tried to defraud their siblings in their dead mother's will have been warned by a judge to expect jail.
Adjourning passing sentence on David Lauro (50) and his 43-year-old sister Elaine Lauro at Craigavon Crown Court, Judge Patrick Lynch QC said their offences "strike at the very heart and foundation of decent family values".
Remanding Mr Lauro, a Scout leader from Hollybrook Grove in Newtownabbey, into custody and freeing Ms Lauro on bail until Friday, the judge warned her she should use the time "to make suitable arrangements for your children".
Lauro and his sister pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation, in that on February 26, 2016, they told their siblings their deceased mother Anne Lauro "had signed an original will dated December 27, 2015".
Mother-of-three Elaine Lauro, from Lough Moss Park in Carryduff, also confessed to a further offence of using a false instrument, namely a cheque for £167,000, with intent to induce Santander to accept it as genuine, on February 25.
Opening the prosecution case yesterday, Nicola Auret confirmed that fraudulent cheque, written six days after Anne Lauro passed away from cancer, "would have cleared out" her account.
She described how the defendants "called a family meeting" on February 28, 2016 when they showed their three siblings "a document which they claimed was the will of their dead mother".
Ms Auret said the purported will set the defendants as executors and outlined how there were properties and money to be divided among them.
But "in particular it was stated that the deceased's business, Kavanagh's, a long-standing operating business, was to be given to the two defendants".
It also bequeathed to Elaine Lauro a property in Co Sligo valued at £154,000, and a property in Co Leitrim valued at £31,000 to David Lauro.
The lawyer told the court that eight months later the PSNI received a report from Mark Lauro of "his suspicions that the signature on the will had been forged", so detectives seized the will along with other documents.
Ms Auret said that a forensic handwriting expert "concluded that the signatures on both the will and the cheque were forged".
Questioned by police on July 10, 2017, the defendants denied any fraud.
Elaine Lauro claimed her mother suffered from arthritis so she had written some things out for her but that Mrs Lauro "always signed the documents".
She admitted lodging the £167,000 cheque, which the bank had stopped, but told police "she didn't realise" she was wrong to lodge it after her death.
David Lauro claimed his mother had read the will "aloud" and after this he said he saw his mother sign it before he signed as a witness.
Ms Auret said that in addition to the two properties with the combined value of £185,000, the accountant for Kavanagh's provided accounts which showed it had been operating at a loss.
There was, however, £14,000 of stock to be taken into account.
But she added that as well as the financial loss, "we submit that there's a gross breach of trust in this case and that the fraudulent will has deprived the injured parties of ever knowing what their mother's wishes actually were".
Defence counsel Patrick Taylor, acting on behalf of Mr Lauro, conceded the fraud represented "an egregious breach of trust" but "I tentatively invite you to give some credence that there is a ring of truth to the assertion from the defendant that it was his mother's wish that he and Elaine receive the business".
The lawyer highlighted that while a fraud was committed, "no money or property was obtained" and it was not committed over a prolonged period.
Conor Lunney, defence counsel for Elaine Lauro, said the offences had caused an "irrevocable split" in the family. He sought to argue that given the "unusual background" to the case, it was exceptional despite the breach of trust, although he conceded the single mother of three "was the prime mover in relation to both signatures".
Adjourning sentencing until Friday, Judge Lynch told the lawyers he could not identify any features which would make the case exceptional and thereby justify potentially suspending any prison sentence.
"The court and any individual who heard the proceedings will be alarmed by the behaviour of the two defendants in this case that, at what was a difficult time for the family, they should be conspiring to appoint themselves large sums of money," said the judge.