Wednesday 18 October 2017

Young mum who helped run student accommodation scam avoids jail

Stock picture
Stock picture

Isabel Hayes

A young mother who facilitated the running of a student accommodation scam has avoided a jailed sentence.

Shamaine McNulty (23) used a fake electricity bill to open up a bank account in Drogheda and made two withdrawals for a man who scammed two international students out of over €2,000 through false online ads for rental accommodation.

McNulty pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to one count of using a false instrument to open a bank account on March 23, 2015 in Drogheda and one count of handling stolen property between March 23 and October 10, 2015.

McNulty, formerly of Swiftbrook Close, Tallaght, Dublin is currently homeless after her rented house burned down earlier this year, the court heard. She and her two children are residing in a hotel in Smithfield while they wait to be rehoused.

The court heard McNulty didn't know anything about the apartment scam and thought she was helping the man, originally from Nigeria, open a bank account for his car sales business. The man, who she knew only as 'Frank' paid her €900 for her role.

When questioned by gardaí, McNulty went on to assist them in capturing the man, who is due to be sentenced later this year.

Sentencing McNulty today, Judge Karen O'Connor said she found it “entirely incredible” that she was not more suspicious about what the man's bank account was being used for.

The judge said two students were left distressed after they arrived in Ireland and found the accommodation they had paid for was not available. She said the offence led to a “loss of reputation for the country”.

Judge O'Connor said a three-year sentence would have been appropriate but she noted McNulty had given great assistance to gardaí and “could not have met the case in a more direct and positive way”.

She handed down a suspended 18-month sentence and warned McNulty, who has no previous convictions, that she did not want to see her before the court again.

Garda Darren Burke told Seamus Clarke BL, prosecuting, that in June 2015, a Swiss student responded to a Facebook page advertisement for an apartment near UCD. The woman sent a total of €1040 to cover the deposit and first month's rent to an AIB account.

However, when she arrived in Ireland on June 11, 2015, the woman found the apartment was occupied by someone else and she had been the victim of a scam.

An American student also sent a total of €928 to the same AIB account to secure the advertised apartment and arrived in Ireland two weeks after the Swiss student to discover she had been a victim of the same scam.

Investigating gardaí contacted AIB and the bank's fraud section traced the account back to McNulty, who opened it on March 23, 2015 in Drogheda.

When arrested, McNulty told gardaí that a friend had put her in contact with a man named 'Frank', who she was told was a non-EU citizen who needed an Irish person to open a bank account on his behalf for his business.

She said she travelled to Drogheda and met the man. He supplied her with a fake electricity bill and she opened the account. He retained the bank card.

McNulty travelled to Drogheda on two other occasions in 2015 when she made cash withdrawals of €7000 and €1000 and handed the money over to the man.

The court heard McNulty did not know anything about the apartment scam. Defence barrister David Perry BL said she initially did not think anything illegal was taking place but that she later had some “misgivings” about what the account was being used for.

Some time after her arrest McNulty contacted gardaí to say the man had got in touch and arranged to meet her in Liffey Valley shopping centre in Dublin. As a result of the tip-off, gardaí arrested the man.

Mr Perry said his client was “terrified” at the prospect of being jailed. He said she was the primary carer of her two young children and had suffered financially since the fire in her home. McNulty had €100 in court as a token of her remorse, which was accepted.

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