Denis William Mackie, 55, took more than £53,000 from the accounts of clients to pay his mortgage.
Belfast Crown Court heard on Wednesday how Mackie transferred the bulk of the money into his mortgage account. He admitted abusing a position of trust for his own gain.
Mackie, of Bristow Drive in the Gilnahirk area of Belfast, voluntarily resigned from Law Society Financial Advice in 2014 after 23 years.
The company provides financial advice to people directed to it by the legal profession. In his position as the company’s executive director, Mackie took a total of £53,500 ($69,133, €60,936) from the accounts of two clients.
In one instance Mackie stole from was an elderly couple, with the second account held by a client who at the time of the theft lived in New Zealand.
Mackie was in debt, but he lived beyond his means, holidaying in Hawaii, Las Vegas, Portugal and Malaga, as well as taking several hotel breaks on shorter holidays.
In addition, he gave £3,500 to Gilnahirk Parish Church at a time when he was treasurer.
The court also heard he was afraid of losing his two children after the breakdown of his marriage and attended to their financial needs.
Crown barrister Robin Steer said Mackie’s offending emerged after an internal investigation was launched by the company regarding the misuse of client funds. The matter was then reported to police, which ultimately led investigators to Mackie.
Steer said Mackie resigned from his position in September 2014 – around the same time a client came forward expressing concern at low funds in his account. It transpired that four cheques totalling £50,000 had been taken from his account and lodged into accounts held by Mackie.
The defendant lodged £10,000 into his personal bank account with the Nationwide and £40,000 into his mortgage account.
‘Real and valid remorse’
The judge rejected claims by the prosecution the Mackie has used the money to fund an extravagant lifestyle; instead he had spent most of the money – £50,000 – on paying his mortgage.
The court was told that Mackie had shown “real and valid remorse” and had paid the money back after drawing down funds from his pension.
Mackie, whom the court was told had socially isolated himself because of the shame he felt, was jailed on Wednesday.
The judge at Belfast Crown Court said despite an early guilty plea and other mitigating factors he was handing down a jail sentence as a deterrent to others who held a similar position of trust.
Mackie will spend six months of his sentence in prison, followed by an additional six months on licence when he is released from custody.