A FORMER Fianna Fail senator was today jailed for three years for his role in attempting to extort €100,000 from a Department of Agriculture Veterinary Inspector in what was described by a Judge as “an abominable scheme”.
Francis O’Brien (70), from Corwillan, Latton, Castleblayney, Co Monaghan wept as he was led away at Carrick on Shannon Circuit Court to begin his sentence. He was given a three-year jail term with the final year was suspended.
A senator from 1989 to 2011, he had pleaded guilty to a charge of demanding €100,000 from Michael Heelan, with menaces, at Tullyvaragh Lower, Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan on April 13 last year.
He was apprehended by Gardai after a sting operation when he met with Mr Heelan in a shed to hand over material relating to the department official’s work. O’Brien had demaned the money in exchange for this material, the court heard.
Judge John O’Hagan heard that the department official had gone to the accused, “a pillar of the community”, looking for advice after being fined €300 when waste material relating to his work was found .
He was worried about the impact of the prosecution on his job.
The former senator later told Mr Heelan that more material had been found but that the matter could be sorted out for €100,000.
O’Brien, a former chairman of Lough Egish Co-op in Co Monaghon, told the veterinary inspector that he was “only the messenger”.
The amount was gradually reduced but Mr Heelan eventually went to the gardai .
The court heard that Mr Heelan had gone O’Brien for advice because he believed the former senator was a person of influence and he was worried about his job.
Judge O’Hagan told O'Brien that he was a former public representative who allowed himself to be used by blackmailers against a department official.
In his direct evidence, Mr O’Brien apologised to Mr Heelan.
“I am ashamed of myself,” he added.
The court was told that he had given 30 years service to his community and had never been in trouble before.