A 21-year-old man has been jailed for three years for his part in a scam where a gang posed as officials from the Revenue Commissioners to defraud an elderly man and his nephew of their life savings of almost €50,000.
Patrick O'Donnell pleaded guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to 10 counts of theft from the 81-year-old man and his 55-year-old nephew on various dates between December 6th 2017 and January 19th 2018.
O'Donnell from from Assumpta Park, Newcastlewest, Co Limerick admitted the theft of various sums, ranging from €2,000 to €7,000 on the various dates, all at the grounds of the Holy Cross Catholic Church in Charleville, Co Cork.
Det Sgt Michael Reidy from Newcastlewest Garda Station told how in January 2017, the victims of the fraud were visited at their home by persons purporting to be from the Revenue Commissioners saying they had a tax liability.
The injured parties were later contacted by phone and told to bring large sums of cash to hand over to an individual, purporting to be from the Revenue Commissioners, who would meet them in the grounds of Charleville church.
“The injured parties would receive a telephone call and instructions to have monies available at a particular time or date. For instance, they were told in a call on a Friday to have €5,000 by Monday,” he said.
Det Sgt Reidy said that this happened several times to the point where the pensioner withdrew all his savings from a post office account and cashed in a life assurance policy and even put a 14 acre farm up for sale.
“Both men were relieved of their life savings - the older man’s entire life savings were dwindled or reduced to nothing over the course of these encounters between June and November 2017,” said Det Sgt Reidy.
They thought that they had cleared their tax liability when they received yet another phone call in November 2017, again from the same person, demanding more money.
The individual threatened if they didn’t fully meet their liability, they would end up in “the big court in Dublin and their names would be splashed all over the newspapers as tax defaulters,” he said.
“The people they (the injured parties) met were very convincing men. They always had the right answers for them and they (the injured parties) were all the time of the belief that they were Revenue Commissioners,” he said.
Gardaí became aware of the scam when a neighbour of the pensioner contacted them so they immediately began an investigation and mounted a surveillance operation at the church grounds in Charleville.
Gardaí were in place there on January 26th 2018 when the injured party turned up to hand over another €5,000 in cash as he had been instructed with a promise that he would get a €25,000 rebate if he discharged his debt fully.
Gardaí observed a white Transit van pull up by the church grounds and O’Donnell got out of the passenger side and approached the injured party before gardaí moved in to apprehend the gang.
Officers arrested O’Donnell and two other individuals, with O’Donnell informing gardaí that his role in the operation was to collect the money and hand it over to the other people.
Defence counsel, Tom Creed SC said that O'Donnell, who worked collecting scrap metal, had no previous convictions for anything like this and Det Sgt Reidy agreed, saying he only had a number of minor traffic convictions.
‘An important cog’
Det Sgt Reidy said that O'Donnell's job was to approach the injured parties and collect the money from them, presenting himself as a David Lyons from Revenue. His involvement in the crime began in November 2017.
“He wasn’t the brains behind this operation but he was an important cog,” said Det Sgt Reidy who said the two victims were so in fear that the younger man used to get physically sick whenever the gang rang looking for cash.
He said that O’Donnell, who first pleaded guilty to the thefts last November, had to date paid back €30,000 to the injured parties and that there was around €19,000 still outstanding to be repaid.
Judge Sean O'Donnabhain told Mr Creed that it was far too serious an offence for anyone to think that the end result, if they repaid all the money, would be a suspended sentence. "That's not going to happen," he said.
He said it was a particularly serious offence where a gang threatened and terrified their targets by saying they were from the Revenue Commissioners and then continuing with the scam to extract their life savings from them.
“This is an extremely serious offence. A pattern was set up whereby men were identified first and then preyed upon…. to put people through this in their homes is really horrendous.”
“The money was extracted from them by what is still regarded in some areas as the greatest threat of all - the Revenue Commissioners - these two men were in living hell. One of them used to get sick when he got the phonecalls.
“I cannot say Patrick O’Donnell was the main man but he was actively taking money in this scam from two innocent men outside a church in Charleville. He was an active participant in an extremely vicious, wicked scheme.”
Judge O’Donnabhain acknowledged that O’Donnell had repaid €30,000 of the stolen money but he didn’t see any realistic prospect of O’Donnell repaying the near €20,000 balance that he owed his victims.
He said he believed the appropriate sentence was five years but, given that O’Donnell had no previous convictions for anything similar, he said he would suspend the last two years, leaving him with three years to serve in jail.