Hospice’s former finance chief pleads guilty to deception in sale of property left to it in will – 5h ago
A former finance chief at the country’s largest hospice has admitted deceiving the institution into selling a foreign property left to it in a will for significantly less than it was worth.
Denis Maguire (65), who was head of finance at Our Lady’s Hospice and Care Services between 2002 and 2016, was taken into custody after pleading guilty to one count of deception at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.
The accountant’s guilty plea came despite the fact he previously instructed lawyers to threaten defamation proceedings against the Irish Independent in 2017 after the newspaper revealed the existence of a Garda investigation into the matter and that Maguire had been dismissed by the hospice.
At the time he claimed, via his then-lawyers, that while “mistakes were made” in the sale of the Spanish property, there was “no basis” for suggesting he had acted fraudulently or dishonestly.
The property at the centre of the case is a Marbella townhouse left in a bequest to the hospice in late 2008.
Located in the Aloha Lake Village complex in the Costa del Sol resort, it was sold five-and-a-half years later for just €37,500, even though it was worth around €240,000 at the time.
Concerns about the manner in which the property was sold were raised in a HSE audit and a review by independent counsel. Both concluded there was negligence in relation to the sale.
The hospice, which has facilities in Harold’s Cross and Blackrock in Dublin and Magheramore, Co Wicklow, subsequently sued Maguire of Ballybrack Road, Glencullen, Co Dublin and another person in the High Court.
It alleged the property was sold in circumstances which amounted to fraud, deceit, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, misrepresentation and conspiracy. The hospice wanted the court to render the sale “null and void” and a declaration that it is the owner of the property.
But the action was settled and the case withdrawn in 2019 after the hospice recouped the full value of the property and its legal costs.
The civil settlement was reached without any admission of liability on the part of Maguire.
However, a separate Garda investigation resulted in prosecutions being taken against him and another individual. That case has yet to be dealt with by the courts.
At an arraignment hearing yesterday, Maguire replied “guilty” when a single charge was put to him.
The charge was that on or about March 5, 2015 he dishonestly, with the intention of causing a loss to Our Lady’s Hospice Limited, did by deception induce the company to sell a property at a loss.
His counsel, Patrick Gageby SC, said: “My client, as part of a token of remorse would like to surrender his bail today. So whatever date the court fixes for a sentence, he can be remanded in the interim.”
Judge Martin Nolan adjourned sentencing to a date next month.
Making gain or causing a loss by deception is an offence under Section 6 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001, punishable by a fine or a term of imprisonment of up to five years.
As well as being its head of finance, Maguire was also a member of the hospice’s board at the time of his dismissal.
In a statement issued to the Irish Independent in 2017, the hospice said its board of directors gave authority to its then head of finance to manage the property.
The statement said that as soon as the issue regarding the sale was flagged with its chief executive Audrey Houlihan and the board, an independent external investigation was launched.
It also reported the matter to An Garda Síochána, the Charities Regulator and the HSE.
The hospice was concerned that the sale did not produce the expected benefit and apologised for shortcomings outlined in the audit.
It said it had introduced a suite of financial policies, including a robust bequest and legacy policy with checks and balances, to improve its financial procedures and ensure best practices.
Maguire initially denied any wrongdoing.
Through his lawyers at the time, he went as far as to seek a retraction from the Irish Independent and to threaten defamation proceedings.
He claimed there was no basis for suggesting he was involved in a property fraud.
Maguire also claimed to have been unaware of any Garda investigation.
However, the newspaper stood its ground and Maguire did not issue proceedings.
Although most of its funding comes from the HSE, the hospice also raises millions of euro each year through fundraising and legacy bequests.
Its most recent annual report, for 2020, showed legacy funding declined by
€2.3 million on the previous year, down from €3.6m to €1.3m.
It is unclear if the property sale controversy had an impact on bequests as sums left to the hospice can fluctuate from year to year.
The hospice was founded in 1879 by the Sisters of Charity and employs over 640 medical and general staff. It also has around 400 volunteers.
It cared for around 3,900 patients in 2020, during which it also delivered 11,000 home visits as well as thousands of virtual reviews.