Man admits plan to extort €5,000

Thu, May 6, 2010, 01:00

A 69-YEAR-OLD Galway man has admitted trying to extort €5,000 from former Fianna Fáil councillor Michael “Stroke” Fahy by claiming he had tape recordings of other politicians plotting to oust him by setting him up in a “honey trap” or having him shot.

Patrick Walsh, Friar’s Hill, Rahoon, had at first denied the attempted theft of €5,000 from Independent councillor Fahy (59), Ardrahan, between December 23rd, 2008, and April 4th, 2009, by demanding €5,000 in exchange for the tapes.

However, at Galway Circuit Criminal Court yesterday he changed his plea to guilty and was given a 12-month sentence which was suspended for two years by Judge Raymond Groarke.

Mr Fahy was convicted in February 2007 of charges relating to the erection of fencing on his land and was fined and sentenced to a year in jail. He served eight months and then had his conviction struck down by the Court of Criminal Appeal, which ordered a retrial. He was convicted in December 2008 of one charge of fraud, and is appealing this to the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Garda John Keating told the court Walsh made 20 phone calls to Mr Fahy’s landline and mobile between December 2008 and April 2009. Mr Fahy alerted gardaí to the extortionate nature of the calls and on January 13th, 2009, they tapped his phone line with his consent and recorded eight of the calls.

In the calls, which began on Christmas Eve, just hours after Mr Fahy’s elderly mother had died, Walsh said he was a top civil servant in the Four Courts named David Wallace. He claimed he had recordings of politicians and barristers close to the Government who were plotting to oust the councillor from his seat on Galway County Council while he was in prison and he demanded €250,000 in exchange for the tapes. In a third phone call, on January 5th, Walsh slashed the price to €5,000.

Walsh was arrested on April 7th outside the Legal Eagle bar after he had arranged to meet Mr Fahy in the Four Courts to hand over the tapes.

Gardaí found the tapes were mostly blank and when asked why he had the tapes, Walsh told gardaí he had planned on crossing the river Liffey to the Clarence Hotel where he would get Bono to record a song on one of the tapes as a birthday present for his daughter.

He admitted making the phone calls and admitted he had been looking for €5,000 from Mr Fahy for the tapes.

The court heard Walsh had tried to lure the poll-topping councillor into his confidence by posing as a top civil servant and claiming the tapes contained “shocking information” of people who were planning to oust him from his council seat which he had held since 1979.

Walsh painted three scenarios of how this would happen. He claimed other politicians, whom he named, were planning to set Mr Fahy up by luring him to a house in Gort where he would be caught taking a €5,000 bribe from a family for getting them a house. He said the politicians were also planning on setting him up on a date with a woman who would then make a complaint of assault against the councillor to gardaí and if those plans did not work, they would hire a hitman and have him “eliminated”.

Garda Keating told the court that given the process Walsh had gone through since his arrest, he doubted if he would ever do something like this again.

“There is an element of a Walter Mitty-style character at large here in relation to his conduct, which was so bizarre that it was unbelievable and such that nobody could be taken in by him,” defence barrister John Kiely said of his client.

The judge said Walsh had preyed on human weakness and vulnerability.

“He picked on a target who was going through an extraordinarily difficult period in his life and he used his life and circumstances to attempt to gain a sizeable amount of money from him.

“He had served a prison sentence while a conviction was under appeal and he was seeking anything that would be of assistance to him and Mr Walsh clearly knew that and used that for the purpose of extorting money as a ruse from Michael Fahy.

“Perhaps, someone who was not as vulnerable as Michael Fahy would say ‘this is a load of poppycock and if you call me again I will call the guards’, but Walsh placed himself in a position of knowledge as a way to trying to obtain the money.

He sentenced Walsh to 12 months in prison, which he suspended for two years due to his plea, his co-operation with the Garda, his age and the belief expressed by Garda Keating there would be no repetition of his behaviour and on condition he keep the peace during that time.