Former Fianna Fáil junior minister Ivor Callely has been sentenced to five months in prison for fraudulently claiming mobile phone expenses during his time as a senator.
He fraudulently claimed a total of €4207.45 using six invoices.
At a sentencing hearing this morning, Judge Mary Ellen Ring said a custodial sentence was needed in the public interest, and the fact of the sentence rather than the length was the most important factor.
Judge Ring said politicians are not expected to be superhuman, but said a major factor in the case was a “significant breach of trust” because of Callely’s role as a public representative.
She imposed a five month sentence on four different counts, to run concurrently.
Judge Ring said he not only broke the law, nor pushed the boundaries, but had “breached the trust placed in him as a public representative”.
While she noted the monies for the expenses had been repaid by Callely, and the amounts were at the lower end of the scale, Judge Ring said an “aggravating factor” was effort went to fraudulently claim the monies.
“This is not a case of a simple mistake or indeed overstretching boundaries,” the judge said. “Politicians are not expected to be superhuman; they are entitled to get it wrong. But politicians are not expected to cut corners and rely on entitlement for explaining misbehaviour or indeed criminal acts.”
Callely (56) had pleaded guilty to four counts of using invoices believing them to be a false instruments between November 2007 and December 2009 at Leinster House, Kildare Street while he was a member of the Seanad.
This morning, prosecuting counsel Dominic McGinn SC told Judge Ring it is the DPP’s view that cases involving a “breach of trust” by politicians in the UK tended to attract “relatively modest custodial sentences.”
He referred specifically to press reports of four MPs who were jailed for expenses fraud in recent years. However, Mr McGinn added that it should be noted that the UK have “a very rigid sentencing guidance structure”, unlike Ireland.
Defence counsel Michael O’Higgins SC said Callely was very “aware he that let himself down”. He submitted that his client is remorseful and is aware he has let his down constituents his Dublin.
Mr O’Higgins cited a number previous cases where politicians were convicted for a breach of trust. He made reference to the case of former minister Fianna Fail Ray Burke who was jailed for six months for tax offences in 2005. Counsel said Burke’s offences are not comparable to Callely’s as they involved the tax code, which is directly decided by legislators.
Mr O’Higgins also referred to the case of Michael Fahy, a Galway county councillor who was jailed in 2007 for theft and fraud offences involving public funds, and the case of Fred Forsey Jnr, a former deputy mayor of Dungarvan who was sentenced to six years in 2012 for accepting corrupt payments. He said Fahy’s prison term was set aside by the court after a retrial and that the Forsey case was not comparable to Callely’s.
“There is no special status attaching to a politician,” Mr O’Higgins said, adding a custodial sentence should be the last resort, rather than the first resort. He said Callely’s knowledge of the mobile phone expenses scheme came “very late in the day” and said the former minister had repaid the monies he had taken.
Mr O'Higgins said the mobile phone expenses scheme is different as it is not a statutory scheme. He presented a letter from the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee stating this.
The court heard previously that Callely used invoices from defunct business to claim phone expenses under an Oireachtas scheme, which allows members to claim €750 every 18 months.
After he became aware of the scheme in August 2007, shortly after being appointed a Senator, Callely began submitting for expenses at 18 months intervals.
He also submitted retrospective invoices from his time as a TD. The fraudulently claimed a total of €4207.45 using six invoices.
The fraud came to light after a Irish Mail on Sunday journalist requested details of some of these expenses using a Freedom of Information Act request. This prompted Callely to withdraw the claims and repay the expenses.
Gardaí then began investigating and discovered two of the companies who Callely claimed sold him the phones were no longer in business.
The court heard that during a Garda interview in 2012, Callely suggested a former business partner, who was deceased by that time, was responsible for the fake claims.
Outlining the evidence today, Judge Ring said Callely had initially told gardaí he had purchased the high number of mobile phones because he “wanted to keep up with technology”.
Callely, of St Lawrence’s Road, Clontarf, had been due to stand trial after being sent forward from the District Court on charges relating to using invoices as false instruments for receipt of expenses for handsets and equipment, under the Oireachtas Members Direct Purchase Mobile Phone Scheme.
He entered a guilty plea in March of this year.
Callely, who was a member of Fianna Fáil, served as minister of state in the health and transport departments between 2002 and 2005. He was later appointed to the Seanad where he remained until 2011.