When Agnes Phelan passed away on May 4, 2008 at University Hospital Waterford, her last wish was that her Spanish townhouse be given to Our Lady’s Hospice and Nursing Services.
These legacies are of tremendous importance to the institution as they complement HSE funding and allow it to serve approximately 4,000 patients annually.
The man who ended up taking care of her estate at the end of the hospice was Denis Maguire, his respected chief financial officer. As Judge Martin Nolan later observed: “Mr Maguire held a very high position. So everyone trusted him and had the right to trust him.”
Ms Phelan of Woodstown, County Waterford, bought No. 14 townhouse in Aloha Lake Village, a gated community in Marbella in December 2004 for €364,500.
She used it as a vacation home during her retirement.
The sale of such a property by Our Lady’s would have made a major contribution to the provision of services at its facilities at Harold’s Cross and Blackrock in Dublin and Magheramore, Co. Wicklow.
Instead, something very strange happened.
Maguire, 65, failed to register the property on the hospice’s investment register and, for reasons only he can explain, embarked on an elaborate scheme to sell the townhouse to a friend for a fraction of its value.
Judge Nolan said it was “hard to know” why Maguire – a “pillar of the community” in the words of his defense attorney – acted the way he did, but it was likely the reason was simple. “He wanted to profit from the sale in some way. It seems to me that greed was the motivating factor,” the judge said.
Maguire, from Ballybrack Road, Glencullen, Co Dublin, will have plenty of time to reflect on his actions after being jailed for 27 months yesterday. He had pleaded guilty to a single charge of fraud at a previous hearing in October, which caused a loss to the hospice.
The details of the deception, outlined by investigating officer Marcus Regan and prosecutor Aoife O’Leary, left Judge Nolan in no doubt that Maguire committed “an underhand crime.”
The court was told that in August 2009, Maguire had asked Woodcock Solicitors, legal counsel for the hospice, to draft an order that would authorize him to manage and dispose of the Spanish property on behalf of the hospice. He managed to enforce the resolution that enabled him to intervene in the inheritance process.
Instead of selling the asset outright, Maguire never took it to the open market and never had it appraised. Over the next five years he made several trips to Spain and attended meetings related to the townhouse. When it was finally sold, the sale came from an email offer of €37,500 sent directly to Maguire in 2014 by an Irish US citizen named Ronan Molloy. The court found that the offer was accepted within 24 hours without due diligence, professional advice or board approval. Maguire then led and coordinated the sales process.
During the transfer, the subscription rights were suddenly transferred from Mr. Molloy, who is not on trial, to a New York shell company founded just a day earlier.
The court was told the company was set up by its sole director, who is also charged in the matter but is yet to stand trial.
Garda Regan said Maguire and this person had known each other for 20 years.
Investigators found a trace of phone traffic between them.
The state alleges that Maguire was assisted in the deception by this individual, using the shell company as a means to cover up their relationship.
Notification of the transfer was sent by Molloy on 12 November 2014 directly to Alvaro Blasco, a Spanish conveyancing attorney based in Maynooth, Co. Kildare. Mr Blasco had been instructed by Maguire to act in the transfer.
The court was told Maguire had agreed to the switch of buyers even after Mr Blasco said he had an investor client willing to buy the property at a much higher price. Mr Blasco was very concerned about the nature of the sale and insisted that a liability waiver be signed by Maguire and another board member.
The board member was not identified in court and was described by prosecutors as “unaware”.
Maguire told the board member the property was in disrepair and a liability for the hospice to convince her to sign off.
He later told Mo Flynn, then-CEO of the hospice, the same lie and never mentioned the property or its sale at any board meeting.
In reality, the property sold perfectly and would have fetched €240,000 on the open market.
The document set out Mr Blasco’s concerns and noted that the hospice committee had been briefed on its contents. However, the concerns were not communicated to the board.
The property was purchased in three installments, paid between July 2014 and March 2015. Two installments, sums
€5,618 and €13,128 came from a US bank account held by Mr. Molloy. The third amount, €12,662, came from an account held by a Spanish law firm. The origin of these funds remains unknown.
At Maguire’s direction, various liabilities, including property taxes and legal fees, were deducted from the sale price, leaving the hospice with a net balance of €27,061. But as amounts were paid for maintenance of the property over several years and other liabilities, the hospice ended up losing 28,911 euros.
The sale would have gone under the radar had it not been picked up during an independent review by the HSE that began in September 2015. The audit results resulted in Maguire being fired for gross negligence and a complaint lodged with Gardaí.
The hospice also sued Maguire in the High Court. The case was settled without admitting liability after Maguire paid the hospice €256,000. This included 91,000 euros in pension entitlements, which he waived.
Defense attorney Patrick Gageby SC told the court his client was deeply remorseful and ashamed, took responsibility for his actions and suffered from nervousness and fear.
Maguire’s remorse is now a far cry from his actions in 2017, when he directed lawyers to threaten a libel case against him Irish Independent after this newspaper revealed that there was a garda investigation and he had been released.
Judge Nolan called Maguire’s behavior “poor” and “very serious”.
“The hospice is a very good organization. I think most families in the Dublin area and across the country have been helped by this facility,” he said.
Judge Nolan said people regularly gave donations to the hospice and Maguire’s actions “damaged his reputation.” But he suspected that most decent, ordinary, and reasonable people would know that just because an individual misbehaves, it shouldn’t do lasting damage to the organization.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/deception-and-greed-how-hospice-finance-boss-hatched-secret-plan-to-benefit-from-bequest-42174992.html Deception and Greed: How the Hospice CFO hatched a secret plan to cash in on the legacy