The disgraced chief executive of a children’s charity who abused her position to swindle almost £50,000 to fund an extravagant lifestyle has escaped jail after a judge suspended her 18-month prison sentence for two years.
Freeing 48-year-old Nuala Magee at Craigavon Crown Court, 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 incarceration would have on her youngest son.
Likewise her husband 45-year-old Declan Shannon, whose personal and business bank accounts were used to launder the swindled cash, also escaped jail when his 12-month jail term was suspended for the same period.
Last March Magee, from Allengrove in Crumlin, pleaded guilty to a total of 29 offences including 23 of false accounting, five of transferring criminal property and a single charge of theft, all of which occurred on various dates between October 27 2008 and June 23 2011, while her husband, with the same address, admitted two specimen offences of possessing criminal property.
Magee was the project manager, chief executive and secretary of the now defunct, Lurgan-based Together 4 All children’s charity when she created numerous fake invoices amounting to some £48,266 which was then paid into the personal and business bank accounts of Shannon.
Since stealing the money, the fraudster couple had been living in Forde in the Australia Capital Territory, but in February a judge ordered them to come back to Northern Ireland or face arrest.
The Together4 All charity was funded by an American company, Atlantic Philanthropies, who bankrolled it to the tune of $6.6 million (£4.2m) in 2007 to implement their 10-year plan to better children’s futures through integrated education in the mid-Ulster area, but it had now disbanded.
The court had previously heard how Magee created false invoices and along with a number of cheques from generous donations, diverted the money into the account of her husband and 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 spent on gambling trips to Drumbo Park greyhound track, expensive holidays abroad and city centre shopping sprees.
The frauds were uncovered in 2010, however, when the charity held an audit of the internal accounts.
Sentencing the pair Judge Kinney said it was clear that Magee had been the “prime mover” in the frauds which had resulted in a “substantial loss to the charity which was established to improve the lives of children”.
He 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”.
As well as the suspended jail sentences, Judge Kinney made a £20,000 compensation order which Ms Auret said had already been handed over.
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, even as they struggled to get into Shannon’s car, the couple remained tight-lipped when asked to comment on their suspended sentences or whether they felt ashamed of their actions.