The owner of an agency specialising in facilitating students wishing to study at English language schools in Dublin defrauded 18 students of almost €30,000 in total, a court has heard.
Raul Rodriguez Ramirez (36) used the students’ money to invest in a restaurant business, which failed during the pandemic, instead of using it to directly book their courses.
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that Ramirez had set up the agency business in 2018 and until 2020 it had run legitimately, assisting international students in securing English language courses.
The students outlined in victim impact statements how they were at a loss of between €1,100 and €3,800 each. Some students had to then pay the colleges again directly.
The court heard how not having a place secured at a college put the victims’ student visas at risk.
One student ended up sleeping in a church doorway for two nights and had no money for food as she was unable to work without a valid visa. Another had to pay for surgery herself as she was unable to get insurance when she was not registered with a college.
The court heard of the devastating psychological and emotional difficulties encountered by the students, most of whom were alone in the country and did not have good English.
The students described having to borrow money from compatriots or relatives for food or rent.
One student described how they had not had enough money to travel to their home country to visit his mother before she died. He said he was shattered emotionally and psychologically by events.
Ramirez, with an address of Stearne House, Patrick’s Street, Dublin 8, pleaded guilty to inducing 18 foreign language students to pay sums of money with intent to make a gain for himself on dates between June 2020 and June 2021. He has no previous convictions.
Judge Orla Crowe adjourned sentencing for one week to allow Ramirez to finalise gathering funds to repay the students. Gardaí indicated to the court they are eager to know the source of any funds put towards compensation by Ramirez.
Det Gda Paul Griffin told David Perry BL, prosecuting, that Ramirez, originally from Guadalajara, sent up an agency in 2018 with offices in Dublin and Mexico. The company acted as an intermediary between students and English schools in Dublin.
The company would get 20 to 30 per cent commission for each student placed in a course.
Gda Griffin said the company operated legitimately, employing four people, until 2020 when Ramirez began to take the payments from the 18 injured parties on a fraudulent basis.
The students contacted the agency in order to secure a college place and paid the fee requested by Ramirez by bank transfer or cash. They believed that they were then enrolled in a course.
Ramirez had told some of the students they were getting a “discount” if they paid quickly and some described feeling pressurised to make the payments. They received “contracts” by email.
The students’ money was not used to secure their place on course, with many of them having to contact the colleges themselves to find out their fees had not been paid and they had no course.
The court heard some of the students attempted to contact Ramirez to find out what was happening. He stopped communicating with most students and told others he had spent the money but would return their money when he sold his business.
The students involved were from countries including Mexico, Bolivia, Japan and South Korea.
Gardaí became aware that Ramirez, who had returned to Mexico, was back in Ireland in October 2022 and made contact with him. He came to speak to gardaí by arrangement.
Ramirez made full admissions during garda interview. He told gardaí he had established the agency in 2018 and as it was going well, he decided to open a Mexican restaurant. This did not do as well as expected and was impacted by the pandemic.
Ramirez said he took money from the agency to pay the restaurant bills. He was then using money from later students to pay the college fees for earlier students already in the system.
Ramirez said he thought he would have enough time to get everyone’s money back. He said he had returned to Mexico with €50 euro in his pocket and had made efforts to raise money but was unsuccessful.
“I think the students think I took money and went away,” he told gardaí, “but at the time I lost everything.” “I feel bad as I did bad things and made bad decisions”
Gda Griffin agreed with Keith Spencer BL, defending, that he did not believe Ramirez was intentionally “scamming” the students at the start.
Mr Spencer submitted his client was borrowing from Peter to pay Paul and it all caught up.
The garda agreed with counsel that it would have been difficult to extradite Ramirez after he returned to Mexico. Gardaí became aware he was travelling in Europe with a comedian friend, who was paying for the travel, and he made contact with gardaí when requested.
He agreed Ramirez has remained in Ireland since his arrest and charge, relying on friends.
Mr Spencer submitted this was a case that would not have occurred if not for the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic and said it was against that backdrop the offences were committed.
He said Ramirez had been borrowing from one person to pay another and when the pandemic went on for an extended time he was unable to keep treading water. He said Ramirez was not making himself out to be a victim, but was “in some shape or form” a victim of the pandemic.
Counsel said his client had an unblemished record until now. He said on his return to Mexico he had spent time in a mental health facility before travelling with his friend. He said he was not “living the high life.” He said Ramirez is deeply regretful and intends to put things right.
Ramirez took the stand and made an apology to his 18 victims. He said it was not his intention to cause them problems and he was going to work hard to repay them.
He told the court he was unable to work in Ireland due to his visa but has some work organising music events in Mexico.
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