Woman fined for flying in from Spain to claim social welfare

Court hears Michelle Lunnon fraudulently claimed over €6,000 while resident outside Ireland

Thu, Jul 3, 2014, 07:46

An Irish woman has been fined €800 after she admitted flying in from Spain to fraudulently claim over €6,000 in social welfare payments while resident outside the country.

Michelle Lunnon (30), of Ballinglanna, Clonakilty, Co Cork, pleaded guilty to 28 counts of fraudulently obtaining social welfare payments between May 2nd and November 7th, 2013.

Det Garda Stephen Fuller told Cork District Court yesterday the charges arose from an investigation carried out by the Department of Social Protection’s Special Investigation Unit.

The unit discovered the fraud when it had carried out an examination of flight manifests for flights into Ireland and compared it to social welfare payments, he said.

The Special Investigations Unit notified gardaí of the matter in November 2013 and gardaí intercepted Lunnon at Cork Airport when she arrived on flight from Malaga.

Det Garda Fuller said Lunnon voluntarily accompanied gardaí to a local Garda station and made a statement admitting the theft of the monies from the Department of Social Protection.

He said Lunnon had claimed 23 payments of one parent family allowance at the summer rate of €217.80 per week and five payments at the winter rate of €237.80 per week.

The payments totalled €6,198.40, which Lunnon repaid within a month of being discovered, said Det Garda Fuller.

Lunnon herself only made two trips to Ireland to collect the weekly payments and most of the payments were collected on her behalf by a third party, he said.

Det Garda Fuller told the court that when he put each of the charges to Lunnon, she replied: “I want to apologise again for my misjudgement.”

Defence solicitor, Eddie Burke said Lunnon, a mother of one, had moved to Spain to live with her brother in 2013 and it was always her intention to return to Ireland to seek work.

He said that because she always intended to return to Ireland to seek work and the fact that she wasn’t claiming any money in Spain, she didn’t believe she was doing anything wrong.

Mr Burke said Lunnon had also suffered some health problems in recent months and he pointed out she had co-operated with gardaí and had repaid all monies to the State.

He also pointed out that Lunnon has no income at all at the moment and he asked Judge Leo Malone to take all these factors into account and treat her as leniently as possible.

Judge Malone acknowledged Lunnon’s guilty plea but said it was a serious matter to defraud the State in such a fashion, particularly given the State’s perilous finances.

He convicted Lunnon and fined her €800 on one of the 28 counts and gave her five months to pay the fine while he marked the other 27 charges taken into account.