A former lobbyist who fell into financial difficulties has avoided a jail term for stealing from two business development organisations.
Sven Spollen Behrens (54), who later became director of the Small Firms’ Association (SFA) and has since resigned, stole just over €20,000 in order to pay private school fees.
Spollen Behrens, formerly of Killiney Hill Road, Killiney, but who now lives in Warsaw, Poland with his family, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to one count of stealing €10,250 from Dun Laoghaire Business Improvement District on June 16th, 2017.
He also pleaded guilty to one count of stealing €10,250 from Sandyford Business Improvement District on a date unknown in August 2017. He has no previous convictions.
At a previous hearing the court heard the remainder of the counts against Spollen Behrens were to be struck out and the sentencing would be dealt with on a full facts basis.
On Monday the court heard a further amount of money had been “wrongly” diverted by Spollen Behrens from the Sandyford Business Improvement District to Dun Laoghaire in order to “help with cash flow.” This was intended to be transferred back when cash flow permitted.
Judge Martin Nolan said the accused man was having financial difficulties and stole money by altering cheques which came to light as he was leaving his job.
He noted that Behrens had gained just €20,500 personally but had transferred further money from one of the organisations to the other when it was not performing well to keep it up and running.
Judge Nolan noted he had made admissions and paid back over €40,000 in relation to the case.
He took into account the accused had co-operated with gardai, suffered significantly and his future employment prospects would be affected. He said he did not believe Spollen Behrens’ deserved a custodial term and imposed a two-year suspended sentence.
Business development groups
Garda Karl O’Neill told Diarmuid Collins BL, prosecuting, that at the time of the offences Spollen Behrens was employed overseeing two business development groups in Dun Laoghaire and Sandyford.
He received a new job offer and resigned from these posts. As he was leaving his employment discrepancies with payments came to light, the court heard.
Spollen Behrens was not entitled in his role to sign cheques, but he would prepare them to be signed by the relevant parties, and it transpired that two cheques had been altered after they were signed and used by accused to pay private school fees of €10,500.
During the investigation it was found that a total of €48,500 had been taken from Sandyford without permission. Spollen Behrens benefited only from the school fees and the remainder had been diverted to the Dun Laoghaire organisation from Sandyford to help with cash flow.
When asked about the school fees the accused made admissions and said he had regarded it as a temporary unauthorised loan. In relation to the money transferred to Dun Laoghaire he said he had prepared cheques for the money to be returned to Sandyford when cash flow was sufficient.
The garda agreed with Olan Callanan BL, defending, that the accused made full admissions and his account matched the circumstances which prevailed at the time.
He told gardaí he had been under enormous financial pressure at the time in relation to the school fees and in relation to the money wrongly transferred to Dun Laoghaire he saw it as a “crutch” to help get it off the ground as funds ran dry.
Mr Callanan said Spollen Behrens was originally from Germany and, prior to these offences, had set up an opticians business which had failed. He had been working voluntarily with the business development organisations before being taken on as an employee.
He submitted his client had made a “seismic error” which was out of character in the “imprudent and criminal decision” to use the company funds for the school fees. He said his client had been under pressure at the time which made him act improperly.
Counsel outlined that Spollen Behrens had suffered “parallel punishment” in terms of his employment and standing and he feels his remorse deeply.
He submitted Spollen Behrens had an excellent unblemished history and led a life of integrity to date. He now lives with his family in Poland.