Man faces community service over rental fraud

Ashley Lucas defrauded a foreign student who was duped into renting a non-existent room

A man who defrauded a foreign student who was duped into renting a non-existent room may perform community service in lieu of a prison sentence. File photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A man who defrauded a foreign student who was duped into renting a non-existent room may perform community service in lieu of a prison sentence. File photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

 

A man who defrauded a foreign student who was duped into renting a non-existent room may perform community service in lieu of a prison 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’s Drogheda branch on March 24th, 2015.

In the court on Friday, Judge Karen O’Connor noted Lucas had provided €1,400 as redress to his victim and said she took into account the fact that he had not come to any further Garda attention.

She adjourned the case to February to allow Lucas’s suitability for community service to be assessed. She intimated that she would order him to perform 240 hours of community service in lieu of three years’ imprisonment.

She also told Lucas he had no idea how close he was to going to prison.

The court had earlier 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 Co Dublin for the 2015/2016 academic year.

Ms Lienau transferred €1,040 to a 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 Lucas’s co-accused, who was arrested. This co-accused 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 that he 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 in Dublin and found she had no room.

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

She said she had been scared that she wouldn’t be able to find somewhere to stay and that the incident had changed her opinion of Ireland.

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

‘Extremely remorseful’

Carol Doherty BL, defending, told the court Lucas had never taken social welfare and currently worked for a recruitment company.

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, which was committed when he was in dire financial straits during 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.

The judge said Ms Lienau was a student who thought she was coming to a “friendly, honest society” in Ireland but was left without a room.

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.