Northern Ireland news

Brother and sister who faked mother's will to defraud siblings are jailed

 David and Elaine Lauro

A brother and sister who exploited their mother’s death to fake her will and give themselves her business have been handed jail sentences totalling 18 and a half months.

Jailing 43-year-old Elaine Lauro for 11 months and ordering her brother David Lauro (50) to spend seven and a half months behind bars, Craigavon Crown Court Judge Patrick Lynch said they had “fractured” a once close family in an offence which “goes to the very fundamentals of family values”.

He also said he could not find any other case “that related to the fraudulent misuse of a will”.

David Lauro, a scout leader from Hollybrook Grove in Newtownabbey, and his sister, from Lough Moss Park in Carryduff, pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation in that in February 2016 they told their siblings their deceased mother Anne “had signed an original will dated December 27 2015”.

Mother-of-three Elaine Lauro also confessed to using a false instrument, namely a cheque for £167,000, with intent to induce a bank to accept it as genuine.

The court heard that bequeathing herself a £154,000 property in Sligo, along with half of the long-standing family business of Kavanagh’s jewellers in Belfast city centre, as the “prime mover” in the fraud she stood to benefit by £328,000 while her brother, who also would have been handed half the business and a £31,000 property in Leitrim, would have received £38,000.

Outside the court, their brother Mark Lauro, standing beside his sister Diane Aston, read a prepared statement.

He said: “As a result of David and Elaine Lauro’s fraud we as siblings have been denied the truth of ever knowing what mum’s final wishes actually were.

"Their behaviour goes against what was our mum’s right to have had her last will and testimony followed according to her wishes and her wishes alone.

"They have allowed their greed, lies and deceit to desecrate our late parents' good name.

"Their conduct cannot be condoned in our society and should never be acceptable.

"We are ashamed of their actions and are satisfied with today’s outcome, we would like to thank our immediate family and friends for their support throughout.”

When the prosecution case was opened earlier this week, the court heard that the fraudulent cheque, written by Elaine Lauro six days after her mother died away from cancer, “would have cleared out” her account.

Prosecuting counsel Nicola Auret described how the defendants “called a family meeting” on February 28 2016 when they showed their three siblings “a document which they claimed was the will of their dead mother”.

Ms Auret said it set the defendants as both executors and witnesses and outlined there were properties and money to be divided among the five siblings, but “in particular it was stated that the deceased’s business Kavanagh’s jewellers, a long standing operating business, was to be given to the two defendants”.

The lawyer told the court that eight months later, the PSNI received a report from Mark Lauro about “his suspicions that the signature on the will had been forged”. Detectives then seized the will along with other documents.

Ms Auret said after the documents had been given to a forensic hand writing expert, “he concluded that the signatures on both the will and the cheque were forged”.

Questioned by police in July 2017, the pair denied any fraud had taken place.

Defence counsel Patrick Taylor, acting on behalf of David Lauro, conceded that the fraud represented “an egregious breach of trust” but said “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”.

Conor Lunney, for Elaine Lauro, said the offences had caused an “irrevocable split” in the family and argued that given the “unusual background” to the case, it was an exceptional case despite the breach of trust and that she “was the prime mover in relation to both signatures.”

Summing up the case today, Judge Lynch said while a guilty plea usually indicates some degree of remorse, “it doesn’t, in my view, in this case” as they had only confessed after their own hand writing expert opined the signatures were forged.

“Your attitude doesn’t indicate any remorse whatsoever,” said the judge.

Describing the pair as “proven liars” who had lied to the police and repeated their lies throughout court proceedings, Judge Lynch said despite their claims it was Mrs Lauro’s wish they would be given the business, “very little credence can be given to that proposition”.

“One simply cannot say what the true wishes of this lady would have been,” he told the court.

He said while there were mitigating factors for both defendants given their clear records and eventual guilty pleas, the guidelines were clear that in all but exceptional cases, “custodial sentences will almost be inevitable to mark publicly the gravity of the offence”.

“There is an expectation on the part of any person who is terminally ill” that their dying wishes will be respected and carried out but by forging her will, but the defendants “took advantage” of their mother’s death, said the judge.

He told Elaine Lauro while there was “profound regret” she would have to be jailed, it was “hard to avoid the proposition” she had brought it upon herself.

He also told the brother and sister it was clear the family fall out from the fraud “is likely to continue to the next generation... the bitterness that you generated by virtue of your actions will not determine at the end of the case”.

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