JIM CUSACK THE convicted fraudster, Giovanni di Stefano, who has been passing himself off as the millionaire "lawyer" to Ireland's most notorious criminals, was certified insane while serving a sentence for fraud in Mountjoy Prison and sent to the Central Mental Hospital over 30 years ago.
The Sunday Independent has also learned that the conman, who has claimed he is worth hundreds of millions, is also currently under investigation in Britain following a complaint by the wife of a convicted murderer in London that he defrauded her of sums totalling stg£120,000 (around ?160,000).
According to police sources, di Stefano, was retained by Paula Bush, whose husband Paul is serving life imprisonment for his part in the murder of 35-year-old Yasmin Akhtar. Bush was convicted after a jury found that he was hired by Akhtar's elderly husband to help strangle his wife at her home in Surrey in the summer of 2000.
The revelation comes as Di Stefano, who could not be contacted yesterday at a number he has used in the recent past, is known to have begun offering his "legal services" to more leading Irish criminals. On May 31 last he was driven to Wheatfield Prison by Eugene "Dutchy" Holland and met Wayne and Dessie Dundon, top members of one of Limerick's murderous drugs gangs.
According to sources in Limerick the Dundons are understood to have raised a large sum of money to hire di Stefano even though he has no legal qualifications here or in Britain and has never been able to prove his claim to have Italian legal qualifications. According to one source a figure of up to ?500,000 upfront money has been mentioned.
The Sunday Independent has also learned that di Stefano's record for fraud stretches back over 30 years and that his first convictions for fraud and false pretences was at Clifden Circuit Court in Galway on June 26, 1975 when he was still in his early 20s. Garda records show he received a six-month sentence and was sent to Limerick Prison. From there he was transferred to Mountjoy where he was certified insane and transferred to the Central Mental Hospital to serve out the rest of his sentence.
On his release, Di Stefano returned to England where he appeared before Middlesex Crown Court in June 1976 on a charge of obtaining property by deception along with several other charges. He received three years.
After that sentence it was almost a decade before he appeared before a judge again, this time on March 19, 1986 when he came before the Central Criminal Court in London on a variety of serious fraud charges for which he received a total of five years' imprisonment. Di Stefano has claimed repeatedly that he successfully appealed this conviction but court records, published last year in British papers, showed that he was lying and that he served his sentence.
The latest investigation is being carried out by the City of London Police following a complaint by Paula Bush who claims that she paid di Stefano £20,000 to retain his services for an appeal by her husband. According to police sources she said that he obtained a further £100,000 from her in respect of a bail bond.
The case will raise questions for some of Ireland's gangland prisoners who are now being introduced to di Stefano by his most notorious Irish associates, Eugene Holland, described in court as the man who shot dead Veronica Guerin, and John Gilligan, the drug gang leader who was said to have ordered the journalist's murder.
It is not known for sure what went on between di Stefano and the Dundons. Dessie Dundon is serving life imprisonment for the murder of rival Limerick gang figure, Kieran Keane, and for the attempted murder of Owen Treacy in Limerick in January, 2003. Wayne Dundon, 27, described as "one of the most violent criminals in Limerick city", was jailed for 10 years in May last year, for threatening to kill a 19-year-old barman who was shot in a pub in Limerick city last year.
The Dundons have access to large amounts of cash and Garda sources say that they may be prepared to pay a large sum to the convicted fraudster on the recommendation of Holland - who is seen as an emissary of Gilligan's.
With no legal rights of representation and no known qualifications it is not clear what exactly di Stefano is offering the Limerick criminals. He played no part in the release of Eugene Holland, who served his full prison term for drugs possession after he was acquitted on the murder charge. His other high-profile client here, Gilligan, was last week told he would receive an additional two-year sentence for threatening a prison officer in Portlaoise jail and is not due for release until 2013.
Di Stefano is wanted for fraud in the US and would be arrested if he ever entered the country.
When di Stefano first came to prominence here last year he was to berate gardai, the government and the reputation of Irish journalists. He used his appearance on the Late Late Show to besmirch Veronica Guerin's reputation and claimed she was a liar. Despite this, up to the last month a number of publications have continued to refer to him as though he is a qualified lawyer and not a convicted fraudster.
Earlier this year an attempt by di Stefano to gain rights to appear as a solicitor before Irish courts was rejected by the Court of Criminal Appeal which ruled that he had not produced "one iota" of proof that he had qualifications in Italy or elsewhere.
As part of his profile-raising technique in Ireland di Stefano has claimed he was in a position to buy Shelbourne FC. The board, however, is not interested.