The former executive director of a company linked to the Law Society has started a 12-month sentence after he admitted stealing over £50,000 from the accounts of two clients.
Sending Denis William Mackie to jail, Judge David McFarland said anyone who breached a position of trust could expect a prison sentence.
Belfast Crown Court heard that one account Mackie stole from was an elderly couple, with the second account held by a client who at the time of the theft lived in New Zealand.
The court also heard that while Mackie put most of the money he stole into his mortgage account, he also used money to assist his children’s university education, as well as funding holidays to destinations including Honolulu and Las Vegas.
In addition, he gave £3,500 to Gilnahirk Parish Church at a time when he was treasurer.
Mackie, from Bristow Drive in Belfast, will spend six months of his sentence in prison, and six months on licence when he is released from custody.
The 55-year-old pleaded guilty to a single count of fraud by abuse of position. He admitted defrauding the accounts of two clients of the Law Society (NI) Financial Advice Ltd over a period spanning from September 2012 to June 2014.
The company provides financial advice to people directed to it by the legal profession. In his position as the company’s executive director, Mackie took a total of £53,500 from the accounts of two clients.
Crown barrister Robin Steer said Mackie’s offending emerged after an internal investigation was launched by the company regarding the misuse of client funds. The matter was then reported to police, which ultimately led to Mackie.
Mr Steer revealed Mackie resigned from his position in September 2014 – around the same time a client came forward regarding low funds in his account. It transpired that four cheques totalling £50,000 had been taken from his account and lodged into accounts held by Mackie.
He lodged £10,000 into his personal bank account with the Nationwide and £40,000 into his Santander mortgage account.
A fifth cheque for £3,500 was drawn from the account of an elderly couple and this money was then placed into Gilnahirk Parish Church’s account.
The Law Society (NI) Financial Advice Ltd fully reimbursed the clients affected, while Mackie has since repaid all the money he defrauded.
Mr Steer said Mackie voluntarily attended for an interview with the PSNI last April, where he made full admissions. He also admitted during interview that he had used his senior position to implicate other members of staff, without their knowledge.
The court was told Mackie expressed remorse to police, and said the offending came at a time when he was experiencing financial difficulties, including his mortgage being in arrears.
Mr Steer said that while the Crown accepted some of the money was used to financially support his children at university, he also had an “extravagant lifestyle” – as was evidenced by holidays to destinations such as Honolulu and Las Vegas.
However, this claim of extravagance was rejected by both Mackie’s legal team and Judge McFarland.
Defence barrister Kelly Doherty said her client was a man who at the age of almost 56 came before the court with a completely clear criminal record.
Saying her client was so ashamed at what he had done that he initially refused the services of a solicitor due to his company’s links with the legal profession, Ms Doherty revealed the offending occurred at a time when Mackie was “under work stress and financial pressure”.
The barrister said her client’s remorse was genuine, adding that since the offending Mackie has “completely socially isolated himself” from friends, family and his church group as he “feels so ashamed in terms of the way he has behaved”.