Foreign student duped into renting non-existent room in Dublin

Swiss student Marlene Lienau says the fraud had changed her opinion of Ireland

While still in Switzerland, the student had met someone on Facebook from whom she rented a room for the upcoming academic year. File image: PA Wire

While still in Switzerland, the student had met someone on Facebook from whom she rented a room for the upcoming academic year. File image: PA Wire

 

A man who defrauded a foreign student after she was duped into renting a non-existent room has been told by a judge that he faces a jail sentence.

Ashley Lucas (36) of Hayworth Rise, Ongar, Dublin pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to one count of money laundering, which involved setting up a bank account at AIB Drogheda on March 24th 2015.

Judge Karen O’Connor told Lucas on Thursday that she will impose a custodial sentence. She postponed sentencing until December in order to get an updated probation report.

The court heard that the case came to light after a student living in Switzerland, named Marlene Lienau, arrived in Ireland to pursue her studies.

While still in Switzerland, she had met someone on Facebook from whom she rented a room in Booterstown in Dublin for the upcoming academic year.

Ms Lienau transferred €1,040 to a certain bank account for the purposes of renting the room. When she arrived in Dublin on September 3rd 2015, she found there was no such room.

The bank account was linked to a co-accused who was arrested. She admitted opening the account using her passport and a false utility bill in her name and she led gardaí­ to Lucas.

Lucas told gardaí­ that he did not know Ms Lienau and had been asked to set up an account by a Nigerian man in the UK, who told him everything was above board.

Ms Lienau was not present in court. In a victim impact statement she said she suffered a total economic loss of €1,346 as she had to pay for short-term accommodation when she arrived and found she had no room.

Ms Lienau said that she had known there was a risk of being scammed when you don’t meet the person or see the room, but that she had seen some evidence that it was bona fide and was very upset when she realised what had happened.

She said she was scared that she wouldn’t be able to find somewhere to stay and that it had changed her opinion to Ireland.

Bail conditions

The court heard that Lucas has no previous convictions and has adhered to his bail conditions over the last year.

Carol Doherty BL, defending, said Lucas had been living in Ireland for about ten years and had never taken social welfare.

She said her client was prepared to meet any outstanding sum of money due to Ms Lienau and that he was “extremely remorseful” for the offence committed when he was in dire financial straits in a brief period between two jobs.

Lucas wrote a letter to the court apologising for what he described as a “horrible mistake that he cannot take back” and said he had wanted the money in order to finance his studies in information technology.

Judge O’Connor said Ms Lienau was also a student who thought she was coming to a “friendly, honest society” in Ireland but was left without a room.

The court heard that Lucas is married with one young daughter, and that his wife who is also in employment is supportive of him but very disappointed that he has brought disrepute on the family.

Judge O’Connor directed a probation report to be presented to court when she sentences Lucas on December 15th.

The co-accused previously pleaded guilty to using a false instrument, to wit a utility bill, on March 24th 2015. She has already been given an 18-month suspended sentence.