Stolen money used for extension and Barbados apartment, O’Brien trial hears

Investments characteristic of ‘Ponzi scheme’, court told

Breifne O’Brien leaving the Circuit Criminal Court in Dublin on Wednesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Breifne O’Brien leaving the Circuit Criminal Court in Dublin on Wednesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Thu, Jul 31, 2014, 23:00

Millions of euros obtained by businessman Breifne O’Brien through theft and deception were used to pay for items including an extension on his Glenageary home, an apartment in Barbados and a car for his wife, the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court was told yesterday.

Luán Ó Braonáin SC, prosecuting, told the court the money he obtained from his five victims was also used to partly pay them back, “characteristic of a Ponzi scheme”.

O’Brien (52), Monkstown Grove, Co Dublin, had pleaded guilty to 14 sample counts of deception and theft that included stealing money and dishonestly inducing people to invest in bogus shipping insurance and property scheme, between 2003 and 2008.

In dealing with his victims, O’Brien invented connections to businessmen in Germany, to an Italian shipping merchant as well as to Cork businessman Owen O’Callaghan and well- known solicitor Gerald Kean. He used fake letters to convince his victim investors.

The investors were Martin O’Brien, Naas, Co Kildare; Dubliners Pat Doyle and Evan Newall; Tipperary dairy farmer Louis Dowley and Daniel Maher of Foxrock, Co Dublin.

Mr Ó Braonáin said O’Brien knew Mr Dowley and Mr Maher from college. They were friends for 25 years. Mr Newall, Mr Doyle and Mr O’Brien were introduced to O’Brien by a mutual friend.

Mr Ó Braonáin said O’Brien used the same basis for getting money from each of his victims.

He told each he would retain their money in a bank account and it would not go anywhere, but it would allow him to demonstrate a capacity to buy.

He told them he would then “procure the option” and “flip it on”, returning their investment with a profit. At the core of the case was that the money was not retained in the account as promised, but was used “for a myriad of purposes”.

One of the schemes involved a property in Paris on the Place Vendôme, an avenue shared with the Ritz Hotel and shirt makers Charvet.

The property was genuinely up for sale in 2008 and O’Brien had obtained brochures from the vendors, but had not advanced the purchase any further. He obtained €450,000 from Mr Dowley for the Paris scheme, €500,000 from Mr Doyle and €685,000 from Mr O’Brien. The money was put to various uses including paying almost €78,000 to extend his home on Silchester Road in Glenageary.

In July 2006, Mr Dowley advanced €1 million for a scheme involving the insurance of shipped linen.

Det Garda Sgt Martin Griffin confirmed the money was used to pay stamp duty on a property in Cork, part-purchase another property and to buy O’Brien’s wife a car. Some money was also used to pay back investors.

Of the five men, Mr Newall suffered the greatest financial loss, totalling €4.4 million, the court heard. Det Sgt Griffin said Mr Newall was the last to advance money so got nothing back. Mr Dowley lost just over €3 million, Mr O’Brien €685,000, Mr Doyle €500,000 and Mr Maher €450,000.

Judge Patricia Ryan adjourned the case for sentencing on October 8th.