The enigma of Kevin McGeever: developer tells his bizarre tale
Elusive property developer who admitted in court to an eight-month fantasy abduction talks exclusively to Maeve Sheehan
Kevin McGeever peered at me suspiciously through the glass hall door of his apartment block in Clontarf. What do you want, he asked, before launching into a tirade against the media who are beating an incessant path to his doorway. The only reason he didn't send me packing is because we met for coffee a couple of years ago, not long after he had emerged gaunt and hollow-eyed from eight months of enforced captivity in a dark container.
At the time, the story of this millionaire property developer discovered wandering the back roads of Leitrim, skeletal, wrapped in plastic sheeting, with outgrown beard and nails an inch long, having been dumped out of the back of a van, was a media sensation and sparked a garda investigation that cost almost €90,000 only to conclude that he had made it all up. McGeever promised to have a big story to tell one day. The New Yorker, GQ and the New York Times were all knocking at his door.
Last week, however, his big story turned out to be fiction. McGeever pleaded guilty at Galway Circuit Criminal Court to wasting garda time by making false statements. A garda told the court he did it to get creditors off his back and his barrister read out an apology on McGeever's behalf, and described his fantasy abduction as the "aberration" of an elderly a man under stress. McGeever escaped with a two-year suspended sentence.
So it was with surprise that McGeever joined me on the porch, tucking in his expensive-looking shirt into his jeans and talking about how he hasn't slept and has been unable to eat, and that his weight had fallen to eight stone during the time he spent confined to an underground container.
Hang on. Hadn't he just pleaded guilty to effectively making it all up?
"I cannot talk about that for legal reasons," he said, hinting darkly that his big story hadn't gone away you know.
Two days after that, we are sitting in a hotel near his home. McGeever ordered a soya latte and looked quite Euro chic in shades, a Bonari navy jacket, a smart shirt and jeans. His ample, dark chestnut hair is slightly bouffant and he sports an impressive Cartier on his wrist. Is that real, I ask him later as the photographs are being taken. "What other kind of Cartier is there?" he asks.
The word “tief” inscribed on his forehead with indelible ink – supposedly while he was held “captive” - is no longer visible thanks to 20 laser treatments and some makeup. He denies that he wrote it himself: “Why would I do that?”
He is keen to correct the record and counter some of the "lies" he says have been written about him. But investors who say he owes them money will find little solace in what he has to say. The remorse he expressed to the judge for making false statements and costing the taxpayer a fortune in wasted garda time is absent. His only regret is that he ever started selling apartments in Dubai to the Irish: "If you gave me a million, I wouldn't deal with Irish again, because you couldn't trust them, the bastards, you couldn't trust them," he says at one point.
Oh yes, and he still seems to believe that he was kidnapped. But Kevin wants to talk about Dubai because "that's what started all this thing off". He spends almost an hour explaining in detail how he got into selling studio apartments and then commercial floors "off the plans" to investors.
But let's start with the backstory, where the McGeever enigma begins. He was born in Swinford, in Mayo, the son of a respected "master builder". McGeever worked with him as a lad. According to his own account, his first deal set the pattern for what was to follow. He chuckles away as he recalls how one day on their way home from work, he and his father dropped into a pub in the main square. The publican told them about an elevated site outside the town and McGeever says he did a deal to buy it. He paid a £50 deposit, got building materials on credit, built the house and managed to sell it before he had ever paid for the land.
He used the profits to buy six sites at Spencer Park in Castlebar. "I was a young lad with big dreams. Because even back then I was infatuated with some of the successful men from the West who went to England with fancy cars and I could see myself in that position some day," he says.
He was a "celebrity" in Castlebar, he says, but he was really just "a regular guy".
"They all thought I was a millionaire. The girls were clamouring all over the place. I was just a hard-working bloke who worked seven days a week and loved doing everything right," he says.
He had a green suit that matched his metallic green Capri car. "Just before I got the car, I went into probably the best gentlemen's outfitters in the West - put that down - Mr Michael P Michael sold me a suit with a sort of greenish tinge in it. It just was the perfect match for the car. It was purely coincidental," he chuckles away. "Every time I came back, somebody would mention this to me." He knew Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach, who also hails from Castlebar "right from the beginning. He was a pretty cool operator. And he is still pretty cool, and a terrific Mayo man. And he still looks about 35."
Castlebar was always going to be too small for a guy with tastes for fast cars, fancy clothes and girls. He started building houses in Naas and is reportedly accused of leaving an estate unfinished, abandoning his Jag at the airport and leaving the country. He dismisses this.
"I decided to take a trip overseas and that trip overseas continued over the rest of my life," he says. "But I did business everywhere. I did fantastic business. I set up businesses and sold them. I had a good life."
As he tells it, he married in Australia, had two daughters, moved to America and got into business there, then moved to Dubai in 2000 or 2001, which is when his woes began.
But he attracted more than his fair share of interest from the international police agency, Interpol, more than once. The FBI went after him for setting up a fake bank in Liechtenstein, in which investors lodged $8m, $3m of which went missing. He was indicted in his absence in a court in Los Angeles in 2003 and he could face arrest if he returns to the US.
In Dubai, he was reported to the police over the suspicious transactions around three properties. Shortly after he left Dubai in 2011, he was arrested in Germany to face extradition to the United Arab Emirates but the case fell through.
The journalist, Brian Carroll, who tracked McGeever for three years for a forthcoming RTE documentary, wrote last week that he "swindled his way across continents". In Australia he left the country, his sports car, his wife and two daughters, and five investors who were each "conned into buying the same roofing business."
McGeever wants to clear these things up: "I have two daughters and they have two sons, beautiful young men. I have met them on Skype. I still have a great relationship with my daughters. We are in touch a couple of times every week. I have a relationship with my ex and the last time we spoke was just after Christmas," he says.
"I left Australia, yes. But I didn't abandon them. I was in touch with them all the time. They were well looked after, they had a nice place to live. A man moves on with his life."
He puts the fake bank in Liechtenstein down to a case of mistaken identity. "There are probably literally thousands of people that emigrated from Ireland called McGeever. Strangely enough there's an awful lot of Kevin McGeevers living in America on the East Coast, in Arizona and in Florida, and all over the place. They got me confused with somebody else," he says.
"This is absolutely crazy shit... It's not me. I have never, ever, ever gotten involved with anything sinister. The only business I do is no result, no fee. I sell shit, big shit. If I sell it, I get money. If I don't...? Some sinister thing in Liechtenstein, how the hell would I set up a bank in Liechtenstein?"
His arrest in Germany in 2011 was "all a load of crap right from the beginning". He was on a business trip and about to sit down to a banquet when "a nice German policeman" discreetly called him aside.
"I found out later that a particular party in Dubai had lodged... a complaint against me and they would be holding me until they got further instructions... At the finish, the Germans said it was all a big joke and they didn't take it serious, and no truer word was spoken."
He moved to Dubai in 2001 or 2002, around the time he met Siobhan O'Callaghan, who died of breast cancer in 2013. He remembers the day they met. "I was staying out in the Four Season hotel in Dublin. I was sitting down one night having a bottle of water or something, because I'm not really a drinker, relaxing. It was November 29, 2002," he says. "So I was sitting there and I was just on my own. I noticed two girls walking, obviously going to the ladies room. I noticed this girl with the blonde hair, and she was like shining, her face, she was sparkling and she was beautifully dressed. She has an absolutely fantastic figure and gorgeous legs and she seemed so smiling and nice... They were both nice but she was particularly nice, I thought, so she really set my heart aflutter."
He chatted her up and asked her out on a date. "And then I took her out, and that was the beginning. That was like from 2002 to 2013. And she was buried exactly 11 years to the day after that, on her birthday, November 29. We travelled the world together."
She moved in with him to his million-dollar apartment in the Palms in Dubai. He sold studios and commercial floors to investors - "I would buy a whole lump of shit, as much as I could get and he (the agent) would move them on, either to Pakistanis or Russians or some other investor.
"I must have been absolutely mad in the head when I started selling stuff in Ireland," he says.
He set up an Irish roadshow during the boom, with brochures offering dream properties in Dubai, for a 10pc deposit and regular "progress payments" of 10pc.
The bottom fell out of the market and he claims people couldn't keep up the staged payments. Some investors claim he sold them properties he didn't own or sold the same property to multiple buyers. He denies this and insists he refunded everyone bar a "handful" of commercial buyers.
He claims he "sold everything" in Dubai and returned with Siobhan to Dublin in 2011 while the mansion he bought in Craughwell for €4m in 2006 was being done up. Siobhan's cancer had returned by then and she was seriously ill.
Last week, Detective Garda John Keating told McGeever's trial that his circling creditors led him to fake his own kidnapping. He had invested heavily in property in Dubai, and lost everything,
"I'm forbidden from talking about that," he says. But he can't help himself. Later he says: "On May 27 the incident happened. Siobhan was in Dublin. I went down on Sunday morning to check the house out. I wanted to check some gardening instructions that I had given them to do. When I left, Siobhan was asleep in bed. I was supposed to see her in the afternoon because I was going to watch the race in Monaco, I like the Formula One racing. I was going to be back and we were going to go to the Pro Cathedral at 6.30pm. We go there every Sunday when we're here. Well, I didn't come back. She didn't see me again. She didn't hear from me again until January 30 the following year, 2013. In the meantime, in 2012, around September that year, she wasn't feeling very good. She was admitted to University Hospital Galway.
"She had a lot of different treatments, and some surgery. I had no idea of anything and I used to be thinking of her all the time, and thinking of where she was and how she was."
In fact she was terminally ill and in hospital. On January 28, Siobhan was admitted to Our Lady's Hospice. The next night, McGeever was found wandering on the Leitrim back roads by passing motorists. He was wrapped in plastic sheeting, with huge eyes in a sunken face, skeletal frame and outgrown beard and fingernails. The word 'tief' was misspelt on his forehead in indelible ink. He told them he had been kidnapped and held in an underground container for months and had just been dumped on the road from a van.
Gardai were suspicious from the start, not least because a witness saw him when he was supposed to be missing and because of phone calls made from his phone to Siobhan's.
McGeever broke on his fourth garda interview. According to sources, he told them he stayed in a remote house, paid some people to bring him food and water and even arranged for Kevin Cooke, a businessman who says he is owed €850,000, to be bundled into a van and brought to see him in his supposed place of captivity, allegedly so the word of his "kidnapping" would get out to other investors.
McGeever seemed oblivious to this as he sipped his soya latte. He talked about moving his head to catch the drips of condensation from the container roof, while he was in captivity, and how he survived on a white bread sandwich a day, filled with lettuce and some awful spread that wasn't even butter. As for the phone calls to Siobhan, he said that "THEY" sent them, "from my telephone that was taken away from me, my phone, and my watch and my holy chains, and everything I possessed," he said.
They read his text messages on his phone to copy his style: "The text messages were the way I used to text her. They were basically copying what I had sent her. Anyway, I cannot discuss any more about that."
Asked what he wants to get across in this interview, a monologue trips off tongue. "I want to get across that I am a real person. That I am an honest, decent hard-working Mayo man, that I started from scratch, a man with a dream, and I worked my arse off to make it happen, whether it was in the States, or in Australia or latterly in the Middle East," he says.
"I was very well off. But not alone did I lose my fortune, but I lost my partner, my hero. Here in Ireland - how do you say this - I have been made out to be a bad person. I've been accused of being a drug dealer and worse... I've always come into the country and I'll have a nice car - a top of the range Porsche, a top of the range Mercedes, S-classes, and all that type of thing. I've had these cars since the 1970s. I've always had these cars. I have a weakness for nice cars... When you drive down the West like that you are automatically [perceived as] some sinister person, or a drug dealer, or the like.
"It was always my dream to return to the land that I loved, in particular the West of Ireland. I did eventually find a nice place in Galway in 2006 and we were both really excited about having a beautiful home in the West. Having lost Siobhan, my beautiful dream has turned into my worst nightmare, an unimaginable nightmare."
There is more: "My faith in God has gotten me through this. My unrelenting faith in God has stood by me throughout my life. Siobhan and myself always visited Knock at least three times every year, at novena time, and other times.
"In addition, we would always climb Croagh Patrick. We went down there and we prayed. I'm going to finish up with that, that's about it. I know that God will be with me throughout."
The enigma of Kevin McGeever lives on.