Brainwasher conned £250,000
A counselor who “brainwashed” her clients, swindling one out of nearly a quarter of a million pounds, has been warned she faces a long jail sentence.
Mary McCullagh was convicted on Tuesday of a series of deceptions, the majority of which involved preying on vulnerable recovering alcoholic Nicole Anderson in the aftermath of her marriage break-up.
Judge John Beashel told an expressionless McCullagh: “The extent of your dishonesty is simply breathtaking and you face a long prison sentence for all these cynical offences.”
During the trial, the court heard McCullagh, 59, now of Farnoak Park, Wexford in Ireland, set up with her husband as counsellors in Anderson House, Bournemouth.
She tricked Miss Anderson, of Fordingbridge, into lending her almost £250,000 in the late 1990s, paying for several luxury holidays and buying her a car.
She claimed to suffer from lung cancer and multiple sclerosis, and told Miss Anderson that she would repay the loans after she inherited a fictitious £9 million estate.
“My brain was completely mushed,” Miss Anderson said during evidence.
“I was just handing out cheques, as you can see, for Mary, because she kept asking me for the money.”
Not only did McCullagh leave the wealthy estate agent penniless, she encouraged her to keep drinking, saying she could have a fatal fit if she stopped.
When Miss Anderson began to run out of money, McCullagh moved on to a second victim, homeowner David Oliver, starting an affair with him when she met him on a cruise.
She persuaded him to loan her £9,000 after telling him her family needed vital treatment in a US clinic.
Another client, air stewardess Ann Betteridge, told the court McCullagh tried to cut her off from friends and family in an attempt to get her to continue with £30-an-hour private counselling sessions.
“She tried to brainwash me into what she said was the correct way to live my life,” she told the court.
McCullagh, who is also an alcoholic, denied the allegations but chose not to give evidence during the trial.
She told police during interviews that the money was given as gifts and not loans, and denied ever claiming to have MS or cancer or to be waiting for a £9 million inheritance.
A jury on Tuesday deliberated for three-and-a-half hours before convicting her of 12 counts of obtaining a money transfer by deception and one count of obtaining property by deception.
Judge John Beashel previously ordered that they find her not guilty of a further count of obtaining property by deception.
Following the verdicts, the court heard McCullagh was fined £25 for a fraud conviction in 1980, jailed for one month the following year for being bankrupt with intent to defraud creditors and given a conditional discharge for a year for two counts of obtaining property by deception in 1982.
Judge Beashel ordered a pre-sentence report and that a confiscation hearing be held at a later date.
Officer in the case Detective Sergeant Bill Bryson, of Dorset Police, said: “This was an extremely heartless crime. It is probably one of the worst breaches of trust that I have ever dealt with.”