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Tuesday 23 September 2014

O'Brien conned his friends for millions using Ponzi scheme

Declan Brennan

Published 31/07/2014 | 02:30

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BUSINESSMAN Breifne O'Brien used money stolen from investors to pay for an extension to his house, a new car for his wife and the stamp duty on new properties, in a multi-million euro Ponzi scheme.

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O'Brien will be sentenced on October 8 next following his sentencing hearing at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court yesterday. The case was adjourned so it can be established why O'Brien has not yet compensated any of this victims.

O'Brien convinced longstanding friends from his days in Trinity College Dublin and family business associates that he was linked to property schemes in Paris, Manchester and Hamburg and a shipping insurance scheme.

However, the schemes were all bogus. O'Brien used fake letters and invented connections to international businessmen and lawyers to get the victims to continue to give him money.

Lawyers for the fraudster said that O'Brien was now destitute and living on social welfare of €188 a week.

Patrick McGrath SC, defending, said O'Brien was previously described as the "poster boy for the worst excesses of the Celtic Tiger", "Ireland's Bernie Madoff" and a "high society con man" and was now shunned and socially ruined.

O'Brien told investors that the money would be left sitting in a deposit account in order to demonstrate that he had the financial clout to purchase investment properties and allow him to procure exclusive options on the properties. He told them he would flip these deals on for profit and split the proceeds with the investor.

Detective Sergeant Martin Griffin told the court that this was all a lie. The money was used for a myriad of other purposes instead of being held on deposit, he said.

Some of it would be used to pay back other investors who had advanced money to O'Brien, a process the detective described as "grooming". He said: "This is absolutely quintessentially characteristic of a Ponzi scheme."

'Grooming'

O'Brien (52), of Kilmore, Monkstown Grove, south County Dublin, pleaded guilty to 14 sample counts out of a total of 45 theft and deception charges at National Irish Bank and Ulster Bank, Donnybrook, Dublin on dates between 2003 and 2008.

O'Brien, whose family home is Carrigrohane Castle, Co Cork, had denied all charges, but changed his plea to guilty on the day his trial was due to start.

Luan O Braonain SC, prosecuting, told the court that the total loss to the five victims was €8.5m and that O'Brien owed further amounts to other creditors.

He said so far €2m had been recovered through the release of assets but that none of this had gone to the victims.

Counsel for O'Brien said that €2.5m was available immediately for the victims from shares in a computer games company, property in Barbados and property syndicates in Boston and Berlin.

Judge Patricia Ryan said she wanted to know why this had not being released to the victims to date. She adjourned the matter to October so O'Brien can clarify this.

The first victim was Tipperary farmer Louis Dowley, who was conned out of a total of €6.95m. O'Brien knew Dowley because his wife had attended Trinity College along with O'Brien in the early 1980s.

In July 2006 Mr Dowley lodged one million euro into a bank account. Within two days O'Brien had transferred €19,000 to one of his companies, used €874,134 for stamp duty on a property in Cork city, €219,024 for purchase of another property and €61,000 for the purchase of an Audi Q7 car for his wife.

Det Sgt Griffin said: "Very quickly within two days the million euro is as good as gone."

The other victims named in the charges are Martin O'Brien of Naas, Co Kildare, Dubliners Pat Doyle and Evan Newall, and Daniel Maher of Foxrock, Co Dublin.

O'Brien stole €4m from Mr Dowley of Carrick-on-Suir.

He deceived Mr Doyle and Mr O'Brien of €500,000; Mr Newell of a total of about €3m; and Mr Maher of €450,000. The deception against Mr Newell relates to the sale of lands in Dunshaughlin, Co Meath.

Det Sgt Griffin told the court that O'Brien knew some of the victims from his days studying economics in Trinity College Dublin. He had known many of them for over two decades and O'Brien and the victims would have attended wedding, christenings and ski holidays together over the years.

Fraudster holidayed with some of the people he deceived

Breifne O'Brien's deceptions first came to light when an allegation was made during civil proceedings in 2008 and Mr Justice Peter Kelly referred the matter to the garda fraud squad.

The ensuing garda investigation into the thousands of financial transactions from 2003 to 2009 involved a painstaking analysis of many documents and bank records.

He began a business career with mixed success and by 1999 he was running a number of convenience stores and laundromats as well as a cab company. He disposed of these in the early 2000s and began to become heavily involved in and obsessed by investing.

He had 83 bank accounts through himself or through various companies as well as being a director of a number of companies.

The six victims were not picked at random but were known to O'Brien through his and his wife's early college days and his family's business connections.

He holidayed with some of his victims and knew others for up to 25 years.

When gardai raided O'Brien's house in March 2009 they uncovered hand written notes addressed to his victims. Det Sgt Griffin said these were part of a therapy exercise and were not intended for the injured parties.

O'Brien made admissions to his victims during an open meeting held by a solicitor from McCann Fitzgerald. He expressed sorrow and referred to "a condition for which he proposed to seek treatment".

Patrick McGrath SC, defending, submitted that O'Brien has lost his family, he has no assets and he is on social welfare as a consequence of his wrong doing.

He said his client is divorced, has limited access to his children, is estranged from his elderly father and shunned socially. Counsel said O'Brien's guilty plea saved his victims and the State a lengthy trial.

He submitted to Judge Patricia Ryan that O'Brien was "firmly of the belief that he could pay people back" adding: "He is a man who has sought to make good."

Irish Independent

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