TWO millionaire businessmen have been handed jail sentences for forging a dead bachelor farmer's will in 1998.
Director of South-East Vegetables Noel Hayes and transport boss Willie O'Leary of O'Leary International were both given prison sentences at Wexford Circuit Criminal Court – but the two men were remanded on bail pending an appeal.
The court had earlier heard that a document had been found in the jury room, which raised an issue as to the safety of the conviction.
The entrepreneurs were found guilty of forging the will of Matthew Hayes (82) from Duncannon, Co Wexford.
Mr Hayes died on Christmas Day in 1998, but in a document purporting to be his final will and testament, he left his entire estate of 140 acres and monies in various accounts of Noel Hayes, a distant relation.
The estate is estimated to be worth €1.7m today.
Noel Hayes (59), of Ramsgrange, Co Wexford, and Willie O'Leary (49), of Kilhilie, Arthurstown, Co Wexford, were both found guilty of forging the will by a unanimous verdict.
The one-witness case relied on the evidence of Willie O'Leary's brother Charlie, who turned whistleblower after admitting he played a role in the forgery with the other two men in return for a payment. Charlie was prosecuted in 2009 and received an 18-month suspended sentence and €30,000 fine.
At the sentencing hearing yesterday, Judge Raymond Fullam said the maximum penalty for an offence under the Forgery Act was life in prison.
He said Noel Hayes had sought the help of the O'Leary brothers as he believed Matthew Hayes's land "should have been his by right".
Judge Fullam described Noel Hayes as "the ringleader" in the forgery before sentencing him to six years in prison with three years of this suspended. He also fined him €500,000.
Noel Hayes's step-daughter, Louise Drought, who was present in court, gasped as the sentence was read out.
Judge Fullam handed a three-year sentence to Willie O'Leary with 18 months suspended and fined him €200,000.
He said the court "had not heard who the victims of the fraud were or are" but that was "not required".
"This is not a victimless crime, it is a serious fraud," Judge Fullam said, adding that the court "must have regard to the gravity of the offence".
They were ordered to pay the compensation by September 2013. The judge also ordered the "restoration of the property to the county registrar".
Earlier, the court heard from the prosecution that a document was found in the jury room after the trial finished.
Judge Fullam was told that an issue as to the safety of the conviction had arisen.
The hearing proceeded to sentencing – but the defence indicated that an appeal will be lodged shortly.