A GRANDMOTHER who kept collecting her step-mother's pension for 15 years after the step-mother died caused a "substantial financial loss to the State", a judge said.
Dundalk Circuit Court heard Christine Carolan (57) of Blackhall Crescent, Donacarney, Co Meath, had collected a total of €91,823 from October 11, 1996 to July 29, 2011.
The court heard that the crime came to light after the Department of Social Protection sent a form to her step-mother because she was about to turn 100 years old. The form was meant to be signed and returned. A reminder letter was also not responded to and the department's local office and gardai became involved.
Carolan originally faced 30 offences but she pleaded guilty to 15 offences of either deception or obtaining money under false pretences which amounted to €44,708. All took place at the An Post office at West Street, Drogheda.
The remaining 15 charges which were originally put against her were not proceeded with by the State.
Carolan had begun legitimately collecting the pension for Mary McDonagh when she developed Parkinson's disease but, when Mrs McDonagh (84) died in October 1996, she had continued to collect it.
In 2010 a letter was sent to Mrs McDonagh by the department because "she was due to celebrate her 100th birthday", said prosecuting counsel Kevin Segrave. He said the letter was to be signed and returned but this didn't happen.
Initially Christine Carolan denied "any knowledge" of Mrs McDonagh and denied receiving the pension, the court heard.
She later co-operated fully with gardai, made full admissions, expressed remorse and has been making weekly repayments to the department.
Defence barrister Caroline McGrath said Mrs McDonagh had effectively become the mother of the accused after her birth mother left when she was young.
A report prepared for the defence and handed into the judge outlined a "difficult, abusive and brutal regime," she was subjected to in her childhood. The money was used for day-to-day living expenses and not for an extravagant lifestyle. She has one daughter and two grandsons and she had helped to look after them. She had been full-time carer to her stepmother before her death.
Passing sentence Judge Michael O'Shea said there was a substantial financial loss to the State and they were serious offences. In all the circumstances he imposed two-and-a-half-year jail terms on each offence and suspended them on her entering into a good behaviour bond for three years.