A Co Kildare postmaster who stole over €91,000 from the accounts of An Post customers, including €50,000 from his own mother, to fund a cocaine habit has been sentenced to six months in prison.
Conor Armstrong, 43, of Main Street,Prosperous, Co Kildare pleaded guilty at Naas Circuit Criminal Court to nine sample counts of theft of amounts ranging from €1,000 to €12,400 on dates between December 2013 and November 2015.
Armstrong, who had taken over as postmaster of the post office in Prosperous from his late mother, Mary, in 2012, stole €91,534 in total from around 10 different An Post accounts.
At a sentencing hearing on Tuesday, the court heard the entire amount of stolen money had been repaid from the proceeds of the estate of Armstrong’s mother.
Garda Nicola Tierney said the offences only came to light after a customer, Ellen Price,became suspicious when Armstrong asked her if she intended taking out “a wad of cash for Christmas” in November 2015 after he informed her there had been a minor error in the account.
The court heard Ms Price subsequently discovered that a sum of €3,000 had been taken from the account after she had sought information from the An Post branch in Clane, Co Kildare.
Following his arrest, Armstrong told gardai that he was deeply ashamed at having “destroyed” his mother and losing the business that had been in his family since the 1920s.
“I’m not that person anymore,” he added.
Daniel Boland BL, counsel for the DPP, said Armstrong had confessed that his motive for taking the money was to feed his cocaine habit on which he was spending up to €3,500 per week.
Mr Boland said Armstrong had also made full admissions about his offences to An Post after the company has also begun its own investigation into the missing funds.
Defence counsel, Willie Hughes BL, said Armstrong had lost his job in retail following the economic downturn in the late 2000s and returned to Prosperous where he helped his mother to run the post office.
Mr Hughes said the former Newbridge College student got seriously “out of control” around the same time with his addiction to cocaine which he had first started using in 2003.
The court heard Armstrong began taking money from An Post accounts as he needed funds to obtain a tax clearance certificate.
Pleading for leniency, Mr Hughes pointed out that Armstrong had already repaid over €83,700 by the time he was arrested by gardai.
The barrister said Armstrong had hit “rock-bottom” after being suspended by An Post in 2015 and having his contract to operate the post office in Prosperous terminated the following year.
Mr Hughes said his client, who had no previous convictions, came from a highly respected family in Prosperous who were widely known in the community through their role in running the village’s post office over many decades.
“He is a very different man now to that which existed in the throes of addiction,” he added.
Mr Hughes said Armstrong had brought “absolute shame” on his family and had probably lost any chance of gaining a responsible job with a position of trust in the future.
Sentencing Armstrong to four years in prison but suspending the final three and a half years, Judge Terence O’Sullivan said the defendant had brought the circumstances entirely on himself.
Judge O’Sullivan said Armstrong’s offences represented a very serious breach of trust, particularly within a small village, but accepted he might not have been “in the full possession of his faculties” due to his drug habit.
“You have lost the family business and reputation and brought great shame on our family” said the judge, noting that Armstrong has been shunned by some relatives since his offences came to light.
However, the judge said it was a significant factor in Armstrong’s favour that all the stolen money had been repaid.
He also remarked that given the likely difficulties that Armstrong would face in getting employment in the future that “punishment outside prison can be greater”.