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Ex-pastor jailed for theft of €125k from Kildare church

A former pastor who engaged in theft and fraud to steal more than €125,000 from his own Kildare-based church has been sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison.

Ebenezer Oduntan, a former pastor of the City of David Church in Naas, Co Kildare, was convicted of 87 charges of a range of theft and fraud offences following a three-week trial at Naas Circuit Criminal Court last month.

The church, which has been based in Naas Enterprise Park, Naas, Co Kildare since 2015, is a branch of the Nigerian-based Redeemed Christian Church of God.

Oduntan, 58, a married father-of-four of Curragh Grange, Newbridge, Co Kildare had pleaded his innocence in relation to a total of 54 separate charges but admitted his guilt on 19 counts of theft, five counts of deception and nine charges of providing false information to the Companies Registration Office midway through his trial.

The naturalised Irish citizen, who works as a taxi driver, faced 73 separate counts of theft, five charges of deception and nine offences in breach of company law following an investigation by the Corporate Enforcement Authority.

As pastor of the City of David Church, he had sole access and control of its accounts between 2012 and 2020.

Sentencing Oduntan, Judge Martina Baxter said the accused had engaged in a “very prolonged, premeditated and well-planned scheme.”

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” she remarked.

The judge said it was clear that Oduntan has sole responsibility for the church’s funds and bank accounts because he was held in such high regard by its members.

She observed that it was unfortunate that there had been no financial controls of the church’s finances because of the esteem in which Oduntan was held.

However, the judge acknowledged that he had cooperated with the investigation by admitting that he acted alone and nobody else was involved in committing the offences.

During his trial, evidence was heard that Oduntan stole church funds including cheques up to €20,000 made payable to him personally.

Although he was allowed a monthly allowance from the church of €1,000, he also used church funds which were meant to help its parishioners for his wife’s business and to buy personal health insurance.

“He was essentially using the church’s funds as his own personal account,” said Judge Baxter.

The CEA also claimed the accused ran “an elaborate fraud” involving inflating the level of donations to his church so that Revenue reimbursed more money than it should under the Charitable Donation Scheme.

The trial heard that there was “a total absence of standard financial controls and corporate governance procedures” within the church while under Oduntan’s control.

The jury heard evidence that the defendant had passed five times more than his declared income through his bank accounts between 2012 and 2018.

Prosecution lawyers told the court that over €75,000 had been stolen from the church via the use of blank cheques, while approximately €52,000 was stolen through a credit union account.

None of the stolen money has been recovered from Oduntan, who is no longer a member of the church since 2020.

During the trial, it was claimed Oduntan accepted some level of responsibility for €15,000-€25,000 of the stolen funds which he had spent on himself and his family.

The court heard that Oduntan notified the authorities in September 2020 that he wanted to confess to fraud in relation to the church’s accounts as he had experienced a crisis of conscience for dipping into its funds.

However, Judge Baxter noted the prosecution did not accept such an explanation as the previous month he was forced to admit to other church members that there were no funds left when they sought to provide financial assistance for a member who had lost his job and fallen on hard times.

At an earlier sitting of the court this month, counsel for Oduntan, Damien Colgan SC, said his client had expressed a certain amount of remorse but did not accept the jury’s verdict.

Pleading for leniency, Mr Colgan claimed Oduntan, who had no prior convictions, had been ostracised by his community and had no friends.

Sentencing the accused, Judge Baxter said he had engaged in a substantial breach of trust and fiduciary duties through sophisticated fraud and lies which constituted “serious wrongdoing.”

The judge sentenced Oduntan to seven years in prison on the deception charges, six-and-a-half years for the theft convictions and three-and-a-half years for providing false information to the CRO with all sentences to run concurrently.

She also suspended the final six months of all sentences with his time in prison backdated to when he was first placed in custody on 13 March 2024.

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