Woman who claimed €230,000 jailed for social welfare fraud

 

A WOMAN who claimed nearly €230,000 in social welfare payments while she had hundreds of thousands of euro in the bank has been jailed for three years.

Mary Connors (36), Cloonmore Park, Tallaght, Dublin, a mother of six, claimed the money over 14 years. In that time more than €1.2 million from her husband’s business passed through her multiple bank accounts.

Judge Martin Nolan imposed the maximum sentence allowed for the offence, saying he had to send out a message to those who committed social welfare fraud.

He rejected Connors’s claim her husband would not allow her to use the money in the accounts for the family and that she had to claim social welfare to get by.

Noting that the accounts were in her name, he said: “I don’t think I can accept she was under her husband’s control; she’s responsible for her own actions.”

The court heard the money in the accounts came from her husband buying and selling cars but the accounts were in her name because he could not be trusted due to his chronic alcoholism.

Judge Nolan said such crimes were “by their nature difficult to detect” and that the courts must send a message. He noted that all the money had been repaid, but he said a custodial sentence must be imposed. Connors wailed and screamed as she was led away to begin her sentence.

Connors pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to eight sample counts of failing to notify the Department of Social Protection of an increase in her means between July 1996 and April 2010. She has six previous convictions including burglary and handling stolen property.

Det Garda Gary Sheridan told Fiona Murphy, prosecuting, that gardaí were searching Connors’s home in connection with a separate matter when they came across documentation showing she had €131,000 in a Permanent TSB account.

An investigation was started and it was found she had another TSB account containing €155,400 as well as an investment bond worth €15,000. Since the first account was opened in 1992, more than €1.2 million was lodged into them and €969,000 withdrawn.

Since 1996, Connors had claimed social welfare payments for herself and her husband totalling €229,453. When she was caught, she was claiming €504 a week.

When investigators discovered the fraud, her accounts were frozen. Connors attempted to withdraw the cash shortly afterwards but was stopped by the bank.

Kieran Kelly, defending, said the money in the accounts came from her husband’s car business and that he was not registered as a business owner.

He said Connors used the social welfare money for day-to-day living as she was not allowed to spend the business money on the family.

Mr Kelly added that Connors had been admitted to women’s refuges 40 times, sometimes with injuries, because of her husband’s drink problem. He said she was a member of the Travelling community and that she married at 17.

Mr Kelly said she was extremely remorseful and unlikely to come before the courts again.