A Dublin pensioner who stole over €100,000 by using her sister’s social welfare card to fraudulently claim benefits has avoided jail on condition she carries out 240 hours of community service.
Marie McMahon (68), a former women’s rights campaigner, told gardaí that when her sister Katherine emigrated to America in 1992, her friend initially used the woman’s social welfare card to pick up her benefits.
When this woman went into hospital, McMahon agreed to continue collecting the payments and they split the money between them.
This woman died in 2012 and McMahon continued to collect her sister’s benefits until she was detected through facial recognition technology in July 2014.
She told officers that she believed if she stopped collecting the money, social welfare would have to start an investigation and that she would have been caught, so she decided to continue with the fraud.
McMahon, of Aideen Avenue, Terenure, Dublin, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 13 charges of stealing various amounts of social welfare payments from James's Street Post Office on dates between September 1, 2002 and June 11, 2014.
Loss of reputation
She has one previous conviction for possession of drugs from 1979.
At the original sentence hearing in March, Lorcan Staines BL, defending, handed in a large volume of testimonials and said his client had been involved in a protest movement in relation to women's rights for many years.
The case was adjourned to June when Mr Staines told the court that friends of McMahon had become aware of the case due to the media attention and had gathered €6,000 towards repayment of the money stolen.
She was also paying €15 per week from her benefits.
On Friday, Judge Melanie Greally noted that many people coming before the courts were now being detected through facial imaging systems.
“Persons who think that they will get away with social welfare fraud need to wake up,” she warned.
She said McMahon’s fall from grace and loss of reputation had been considerable. She said she accepted McMahon did not use the money for her own needs and noted very impressive testimonials had been handed up on her behalf.
Judge Greally imposed a five-year sentence which she suspended in full, on condition McMahon carry out 240 hours of community service and continue to pay €15 per week to the Department of Social Protection.
At the original sentence hearing, Garda Richard Pender accepted that McMahon had one son, whom she said was trouble as a child and that she was forced to pay out drug debts on his behalf on more than 20 occasions.
Mr Staines said McMahon’s case had rightfully been widely reported in the media and asked the court to take into account the significant impact this has had on her.
He submitted that McMahon was a woman who posed no risk to society and had provided very significant assistance to society in her earlier life.
He said she had expressed remorse and was at low risk of re-offending. He said her health difficulties did not disqualify her from community service.