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Friday 22 August 2014

Rise and fall of a poster boy of the Celtic Tiger

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

Published 19/06/2014 | 02:30

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Breifne O'Brien and ex-wife Fiona Nagle

The phrase "spectacular fall from grace" has been much used in recent years as various former titans have been brought to heel in our criminal, civil and bankruptcy courts.

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But the phrase, however hackneyed, neatly sums up the rise and fall of Breifne O'Brien, a man whom his peers at Trinity College believed would end up working in the civil service.

Breifne O'Brien and his now ex-wife Fiona Nagle, a former receptionist at FHS – the PR firm – were the ultimate poster children of the Celtic Tiger.

As well as Invergarry, their multi-million euro home on the Silchester Road in Glenageary, they owned an apartment on Vico Road in Dalkey, close to the home of U2 frontman Bono.

The duo, whose every move was recorded by social diarists, also boasted the obligatory nouveax riches villa in the Sandy Lane golf resort in St James, Barbados. A €70,000 Aston Martin completed the picture.

Nagle ran her own PR and event management firm, charging a minimum €2,500 for a private party of six.

Nagle, who has two children with her former estate agent husband Gerry Hoban, married O'Brien in a quiet civil ceremony in July 2007. Two months later more than 300 people gathered at Carrigrohane Castle, O'Brien's family estate in Cork, to celebrate their wedding.

It is hard to know where it all went wrong for O'Brien, whose Ponzi scheme ran for the best part of 15 years before it all came crashing down. When he left Trinity in the late 1980s, it was laundry, not property, that the young entrepreneur turned his hand to. O'Brien's first venture was a successful launderette in Rathmines called Shirleys.

A diner, Starvin Marvin's, was not so lucky – it went bust in 1993 a year after it opened.

O'Brien then reinvented himself as an investment adviser, specialising in so-called optioned properties – where parties invest in the exclusive right to buy or sell a property within a set time at a set price.

His greatest currency was the confidence he inspired in investors, many of them close family and friends.

When the scheme unravelled, O'Brien made a number of admissions in a Dublin law firm. He said he would invent bogus deals, seek money from an investor and, when the time came to pay the investor back, he would try to convince them to reinvest in another fake deal.

If O'Brien couldn't convince an investor to reinvest, he would seek out new blood to pay off the first investment.

Any sympathy for O'Brien imploded when he boasted to solicitor Brian Quigley, of McCann Fitzgerald – who represented many investors – that it was "easy to pull the suckers in when things were booming".

The lack of contrition at that meeting stood in stark contrast to the lengthy legal battle O'Brien mounted to halt his trial which drew to a close yesterday when he admitted 14 sample counts of theft and deception.

O'Brien, now divorced, faces up to 10 years in prison.

By pleading guilty on the day his trial was due to begin, he has spared his friends the trauma of giving evidence. Small consolation for the losses they endured.

Irish Independent

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