FORMER USPCA Chief Executive, Stephen Philpott, is to be sentenced on Monday.
The 55-year-old of The Manse, Newry, appeared before Newry Crown Court on Thursday (December 13), having pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position in September.
Judge Gordon Kerr commented that Philpott's offence, which took place over a seven year period, could reach the custody threshold.
It was outlined in the court that between the dates of January 15, 2007, and November 28, 2014, the USPCA lost £40,000.
Philpott had obtained rental payments from a Polish national in regards to a Bessbrook property owned by the USPCA but failed to account for these payments.
The £400 rent was paid in cash on a monthly basis directly to Philpott.
In November 2014, a USPCA colleague of Philpott asked him to draw up a rental contract, which then led to an enquiry into the payments.
The rent was increased to £456 in 2012 when the USPCA moved to the Carnbane Industrial Estate.
However, in 2014/15 Philpott returned two months rent to the tenant of the property and told him to pay it to the USPCA.
Defence counsel for Philpott added that the money has been paid back in full by the defendant and described the former USPCA chief as a person of good character.
“Given the background and good character it may be that this offence is difficult to understand,” said the barrister.
“The fact is that Mr Philpott seems to have worked totally in the interest of the charity. He was involved in many dangerous investigations in regards to animal welfare and won many awards.
“He would make the case that he never applied for any additional hours of overtime work, which he could have done within his contract.
“When he was involved in these various investigations he did so with very severe threats from criminal gangs.
“As a result of that the USPCA installed various security measures at his home.”
Defence counsel added that Philpott may have received the rent money because he allowed “the distinction between an employee to become blurred” while in the role of chief executive.
“The money wasn't received in any secret way,” continued the barrister. “It was frequently handed into staff, who were told what it was. There was nothing secretive.”
However, Judge Kerr stated that there was a “certain arrogance” in that Philpott could “do what he wanted” as chief executive.
“This breach in trust appeared to go over seven years and there is an argument that this could reach the custody threshold,” the judge added.
“The pre-sentence report seems to suggest that he seems reluctant to accept his guilt.”
Judge Kerr released Philpott on bail and he must return to Newry Crown Court on Monday (December 17) for sentencing.