Beneficiary's wild spending spree after bank blunder

  • 05/04/2017

What would you do if a bank error put heaps of cash in your account?

Margaret McDonnell, 23, spent it on her kids, ate out every night for a fortnight and bought gifts including two vases and a “crystal mushroom lamp” - but still managed to walk free from court.

McDonnell argued that she did what anyone in her position would do.

The Irish single mum living on benefits went on a "massive spending spree" after a bank mistakenly deposited NZ$78,021 into her account.

McDonnell, of Finglas, was handed a suspended jail sentence after spending the cash on her two children - including bedclothes, clothes and shoes.

The Irish Mirror reported she ate out each night over two weeks, and insisted "any young girl on welfare like me would have done what I did".

She was only ordered to pay back NZ$1534 and over an 18-month period.

Referring to the money deposited into her account, Judge Cormac Quinn at Dublin's Circuit Criminal Court said, "If it's too good to be true it is because it is too good to be true".

McDonnell's defence lawyer Oisin Clarke said it was a case of the goose laying golden eggs and the client spending the money before it stopped.

Pleading guilty to 13 counts of theft of cash from the Bank of Ireland over a 10-day period, McDonnell admitted withdrawing large amounts from ATM machines as well as in shops and restaurants.

Detective Garda Karl Smith told the court that in March 2013 a Bank of Ireland customer went into the Finglas branch to allow the transfer of NZ$78,021 into his account from a foreign bank account.

When the money did not show up in his account, he contacted the bank. It was then discovered he had been incorrectly given the details of McDonnell's account.

On discovering its mistake, the bank took back the NZ$40,995 remaining from the original deposit.

They also wrote to McDonnell asking her to repay the rest, but she ignored the letter.

After her arrest she accepted full responsibility, and told local police she thought the money was hers if it was in her bank account.

“I just went on a high. It was such a lot of money. It was in my account so as far as I was concerned, it was mine."

McDonnell said she spent the money “on everything and anything, stupid things”.

Asked if she was bothered by the theft she told police, “If only you knew me, you would know I was bothered by this.

"Any young girl on social welfare like me would have done what I did".

She said she ignored the letter from the bank because she was scared and realised she had done something wrong.

Mr Clarke said his client had never had disposal income to spend, and had never been able to buy gifts for friends or family.

Judge Quinn said the money was spent on mundane things, and asked how she had managed to spend so much in gift shops that sell “ordinary middle of the road type gifts".

The lawyer said McDonnell had never been in trouble previously, and had always tried to live her life in an upright fashion.

Detective Smith said she had “flittered the money away” and had nothing to show for it.

Along with paying back just NZ$1534 of the NZ$78,021 taken, she was also ordered to carry out 150 hours of community service.

Mr Clarke said Ms McDonnell received a NZ$383 sole parent allowance each week and could only afford to pay NZ$23 from this to make up the theft.