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Tuesday 23 September 2014

Callely jailed for five months for fake expenses claim

Published 28/07/2014 | 10:34

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FORMER junior minister Ivor Callely has been jailed for five months for fraudulently claiming mobile expenses at Leinster House while he was a senator.

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Callely showed no emotion as the sentence was read out by Judge Mary Ellen Ring at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

The judge said a custodial sentence was required "in the public interest".

She said Callely "not only broke the law, but breached the trust placed in him as a public representative."

The former junior transport minister was sentenced to five months on each of four counts of using invoices believing them to be a false instruments between November 2007 and December 2009 at Leinster House while he was a member of the Seanad. The sentences are to run concurrently.

Callely had pleaded guilty to the offences.

The invoices were submitted to support claims under a mobile phone reimbursement scheme dating back to 2002.

Through his counsel, Michael O'Higgins SC, Callely apologised for the offences.

"Mr Callely is very remorseful and he wishes to apologise. He is very much aware he has let himself down. He is also very much aware that for the constituents he represented in Dublin for many years, it is a slight on them," said Mr O'Higgins.

However, Judge Ring said no explanation had been given as to why Callely had made the bogus claims, apart from the fact that he was entitled to claim expenses.

She said the court had to have "regard for the significant breach of trust".

The court heard Callely used invoices from two defunct businesses 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, the then senator began submitting for expenses at 18 months intervals.

He also submitted retrospective invoices from his time as a TD.

The prosecution said he fraudulently claimed a total of €4207.45 using six invoices.

The fraud only came to light after a journalist requested details of some of these expenses under the Freedom of Information Act.

After the request was made, Callely withdrew five of the claims and repaid most of the expenses claimed.

Gardai then launched an investigation.

Detectives found that two of the companies which Callely claimed sold him the phones were no longer in business.

A third company said that while it had sold phone equipment to Callely, the invoice he had submitted to the Oireachtas was a conflation of two previous sales to him.

When he was arrested in 2012, Callely told gardai he did not recognise the invoices. He also suggested that a former business partner, John O'Dolan, may have been responsible for the invoices.

Mr O'Dolan had taken his own life three years previously after battling with depression.

This morning Judge Ring heard submissions about previous cases where politicians found themselves convicted for offences involving a breach of trust.

These included the jailing for six months of former justice minister Ray Burke for tax offences. A number of press clippings dealing with previous cases involving politicians in Ireland and abroad were handed to the judge by prosecution counsel Dominic McGinn SC.

Defence counsel Michael O'Higgins had argued that the Callely case was not one where a custodial sentence was warranted and unsuccessfully pressed for the judge to impose a community service order.

He also argued that Callely's case should not be given a special status because he was a politician.

"In this jurisdiction there has been a long tradition that custody is the last port of call, not the first port of call," the barrister argued.

He said Callely had purchased a significant number of mobile phone handsets in the period covered by the charges.

Mr O'Higgins said his client had put in "bogus paperwork to support what otherwise would have been a valid claim."

The barrister said that while this was "reprehensible and wrong", it was "different to submitting false paperwork for something one was not entitled to."

Mr O'Higgins also said the amount involved was "at the lower end" and had been "repaid long before gardai began investigating the matter."

He said that if the case had been before the district court, no one would bat an eyelid if a community service order was given.

At a previous hearing Mr O’Higgins told the court his client had 25 years of public service behind him and had suffered personally and professionally because of the charges.

He also said Callely's marriage had broken up 12 months ago.

The maximum term Callely could have received for the offences was ten years.

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