Councillor sentenced to year in jail, fined for fraud

Independent and former Fianna Fail councillor Michael Fahy
leaving Galway District Court yesterday after he was fined and
sentenced for fraud.

Independent and former Fianna Fail councillor Michael Fahy leaving Galway District Court yesterday after he was fined and sentenced for fraud.

Wed, Mar 21, 2007, 00:00

A councillor who was yesterday sentenced to 12 months in jail and fined €75,000 for theft and fraud offences has indicated his determination to remain an Independent member of Galway County Council. Judge Raymond Groarke at Galway Circuit Court accused him of perjury and said he was a "determined fraudster".

Michael Fahy (56), Caherduff, Ardrahan, Co Galway, had strenuously denied seven charges of theft, fraud and false accounting during a five-day trial earlier this month.

He had denied that in 2002, he caused £7,055 to be paid by Galway County Council to Thomas Byrne of Byrne Fencing Ltd for works carried out for his own use and benefit on his private lands. He also denied the attempted theft in 2003 of more money by submitting fraudulent invoices from the fencing company for €7,233 and €7,523 and with attempting to make gain for himself through false accounting by submitting those invoices to the council in 2003.

On March 6th, the jury returned a unanimous verdict finding Fahy guilty of all charges. It had heard how he had used his position as a councillor to have nearly a mile of fencing erected on his lands at the expense of the council and the taxpayer.

Before passing sentence yesterday, Judge Groarke sought to find out if Fahy had resigned his council seat since his conviction. He asked his counsel, Martin Giblin SC, if he was sentencing "Councillor Fahy" or "Mr Fahy"?

Mr Giblin replied, "As it is, it's Councillor Fahy." He said it was his client's "conscientious and considered position" that he continue to be a councillor.

Judge Groarke asked about section 13 of the Local Government Act, 2001, which the council might now invoke to have Fahy stripped of his seat.

Mr Giblin said his reading of section 13 was that it was "automatic and draconian" and it was his opinion the council's action in the matter would be "instantaneous."

Mr Giblin said sentencing did not require for the court to take into account whether his client was a serving councillor or whether he was being sentenced as "Councillor Fahy" or "Mr Fahy".

Passing sentence and imposing fines totalling €75,000, Judge Groarke called Fahy, a "determined fraudster" who had lied under oath and who had committed the crimes out of sheer greed.

"You are publicly declared a fraud," he said.

Judge Groarke said Fahy had been earning €60,000 a year as an insurance salesman before these offences and was also in receipt of remuneration as a county councillor, not to mention his farm and other "quite extensive property assets of great value".

He said he had not shown one shred of remorse or regret for his actions - when he was caught or even yesterday - and had thought nothing of implicating the innocent fencing contractor, Mr Byrne, and later, council officials, in his scheme of fraud and deceit.

"He knowingly implicated a totally innocent man, leaving him exposed to vilification and ruin if the truth had not come out and he had called into question the honesty and integrity of council officials as well.

"Your bombast, bluster and bluff may well have been seen as such by those who witnessed your performance in the witness box, but all the while you gambled with the reputations of honest men in seeking an escape from the consequences of your delinquency."

The judge said Fahy had used and abused his position on the council to steal from it.

"You have insulted and sullied the office and position of county councillor and you have belittled and rendered suspect the many hundred hard-working local and county councillors who go about their everyday work with diligence, care and honesty."

Judge Groarke commended the local area engineer in Gort, John Costello, who was the first council official to suspect Fahy. He said Mr Costello did not allow himself to be intimidated or brow-beaten by a "very determined fraudster".

He added: "The conviction of a person elected to public office brings disgrace and odium upon such a person in a most public way. It is my view that crimes which find their motivation in greed should be punished in a way appropriate to that motivation."

He then sentenced Fahy to 12 months in prison on all seven charges, to run concurrently, and imposed €25,000 fines on three of the charges, totalling €75,000. Leave to appeal was refused.

Mr Giblin asked for a stay of a month to allow Fahy to put his affairs in order and to organise care for his 97-year-old mother. Judge Groarke agreed to a two-week stay. Fahy agreed to present himself at Loughrea Garda station on April 3rd from where he will be taken to Castlerea Prison.