Thursday 21 September 2017

Mother handed three-year jail term for €250,000 welfare fraud

Mary Connors: jailed for three years yesterday
Mary Connors: jailed for three years yesterday

Conor Gallagher and Mark Hilliard

A MOTHER of six who claimed nearly €250,000 in social welfare payments while having hundreds of thousands in the bank has been jailed for three years.

Mary Connors (36) claimed the money over the course of 14 years. In that time, more than €1.2m from her husband's business passed through her multiple bank accounts.

Judge Martin Nolan imposed the maximum sentence allowed, saying he had to send out a message to welfare fraudsters.

He rejected Connors's claim that 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.

"I don't think I can accept she was under her husband's control; she's responsible for her own actions," he said.

The court heard the money in the accounts came from her husband buying and selling cars but that the accounts were in her name because he couldn't be trusted due to his chronic alcoholism. All of the money has since been repaid.

Connors, of Cloonmore Park, Tallaght, Dublin, wailed and screamed as she was led away by prison officers.

She had 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.

Gardai had been 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 found she had another TSB account containing €155,400 and an investment bond worth €15,000.

Frozen

Since the first account was opened in 1992, more than €1.2m was lodged into them and €969,000 was withdrawn.

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

Her accounts were frozen by investigators and when Connors attempted to withdraw the cash shortly afterwards, she was stopped by the bank.

Defending barrister Kieran Kelly said Connors, a member of the Travelling community who married at 17, had used her welfare payments for day-to-day living.

The court heard she had been admitted to women's refuges 40 times, sometimes with injuries, because of her husband's drink problem.

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

The amount of money involved in yesterday's case is understood to be far more significant than in the vast majority of fraud cases.

As a result of last year's Fraud Initiative 2011 to 2013, the Department of Social Protection saved more than €645m through "control measures" following a review of 982,000 individual cases.

"The programme for government commits to a zero-tolerance approach to social welfare fraud," Social Protection Minister Joan Bruton said of the initiative.

There has also been a significant increase in the level of public tip-offs, rising from just 6,429 in 2009 to 16,920 last year.

The largest level of savings resulting from the investigation came from one-parent family payments (€167m) and pensions (€142m).

Most cases are prosecuted in the District Courts with a fine not exceeding €2,500 or a prison sentence of no more than six months. More serious cases are referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Last year, 134 cases of fraud attracted fines while seven ended with the imposition of custodial sentences.

Irish Independent

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