A brother and sister who tried to defraud their siblings in their dead mother’s will have been warned by a judge to expect jail.
Adjourning passing sentence on David Lauro (50) and his 43-year-old sister Elaine Lauro at Craigavon Crown Court in Co Armagh, Judge Patrick Lynch QC said on Wednesday their offences “strikes at the very heart and foundation of decent family values”.
Remanding Mr Lauro into custody and freeing Ms Lauro on bail until Friday, the judge said she should use the time “to make suitable arrangements for your children”.
At an earlier hearing both Mr Lauro, a Scout leader from Hollybrook Grove in Newtownabbey, Co Antrim and his sister, from Lough Moss Park in Carryduff, Co Down, pleaded guilty to a count of fraud by false representation in that on February 26th, 2016, they told their siblings their deceased mother Anne Lauro “had signed an original will dated December 27th, 2015”.
Mother-of-three Elaine Lauro also confessed to a further offence of using a false instrument, namely a cheque for £167,000 (€185,000), with intent to induce Santander bank to accept it as genuine, a day earlier on February 25th.
Opening the prosecution case, Public Prosecution Service (PPS) counsel Nicola Auret confirmed that fraudulent cheque, written six days after Anne Lauro died from cancer, “would have cleared out” her account.
She described how the defendants “called a family meeting” on February 28th, 2016 when they showed their three siblings, a sister and two brothers, “a document which they claimed was the will of their dead mother”.
Ms Auret said the purported will set the defendants as executors and while it outlined there were properties and money to be divided among them, “in particular it was stated that the deceased’s business, Kavanagh’s, a long standing operating business, was to be given to the two defendants”.
It also bequeathed to Elaine Lauro a property in Co. Sligo valued at £154,000 (€170,000) and to David Lauro, a property in Co. Leitrim valued at £31,000 (€34,000).
The lawyer told the court that eight months later, in October 2016, the PSNI received a report from a brother Mark Lauro “his suspicions that the signature on the will had been forged,” prompting a criminal investigation.
His sister Diane Aston made a similar statement, “that she didn’t believe the signature was her mother’s”, so detectives seized the will purported to have been signed by Anne Lauro along with other documents which she had genuinely signed.
The police enquires also uncovered the cheque for £167,000 (€185,000) and Ms Auret said that after the will and all the other documents had been given to a forensic handwriting expert “he concluded that the signatures on both the will and the cheque were forged”.
The brother and sister were both questioned by police on July 10th, 2017 but they denied any fraud had taken place.
Elaine Lauro claimed her mother suffered from arthritis so she had written for her sometimes but Mrs Lauro “always signed the documents.”
She admitted lodging the £167,000 (€185,000) cheque which the bank had stopped but told police it had been her mother’s wish and claimed “she didn’t realise” she was wrong to lodge it after her death.
David Lauro claimed his mother had read the will “aloud and after this, he said he saw his mother sign it” before he signed as a witness.
Ms Auret said that in relation to the scale of the fraud, count two was “relatively easy” as it related to a forged £167,000 (€185,000) cheque but that in relation to the purported will “it’s not as easy to put a figure before the court.”
She told the court that in addition to the two properties in the Republic with the combined value of £185,000 (€205,000), the “long standing account” for the Kavanagh family business provided accounts for the last three years which showed the business had been operating at a loss.
There was however £14,000 (€15,500) of stock to be taken into account.
She added: “We submit that there’s a gross breach of trust in this case and that the fraudulent will has deprived the injured parties of ever knowing what their mother’s wishes actually were and what she actually wanted.”
Defence counsel Patrick Taylor, acting on behalf of Mr Lauro, conceded the fraud represented “an egregious breach of trust” but added: “I tentatively invite you to give some credence that there is a ring of truth to the assertion from the defendant that it was his mother’s wish that he and Elaine receive the business.”
He said that David Lauro, a father-of-five, and Elaine Lauro were the only two siblings who worked in Kavanagh’s, adding that while Mr Lauro maintains it was his mother’s wish to hand the business to the defendants, “he now accepts that this amount to a fraud…he had convinced himself he was acting to carry out his mother’s wishes”.
The lawyer highlighted that while a fraud was committed, “no money or property was obtained” and it was not committed over a prolonged period of time.
Conor Lunney, defence counsel for Elaine Lauro, said the offences had caused an “irrevocable split” in the family and he argued that given the “unusual background” to the case, coupled with the fact that Elaine Lauro is a single mother of three, it was an exceptional case despite the breach of trust.
“It’s no surprise to hear that she’s extremely concerned about the prospect of going to prison,” said the lawyer, who further conceded that his client “was the prime mover in relation to both signatures”.
Adjourning passing sentence to Friday, Judge Lynch told the lawyers he could not identify any features which would make the case exceptional and thereby justify potentially suspending any prison sentence.
“The court and any individual who heard the proceedings will be alarmed by the behaviour of the two defendants in this case that at what was a difficult time for the family that they should be conspiring to appoint themselves large sums of money,” said the judge.