Sunday 24 September 2017

Welfare cheat 'entitled to more than he claimed'

Conor Gallagher

A 61-YEAR-OLD who fraudulently claimed the disability payments of a dead man would have got more money if he had claimed himself, a court heard yesterday.

Francis Byrne was legitimately entitled to social welfare and would have received more money if he claimed it rather than claiming over €40,000 of the dead man's payments.

He avoided a jail term after Judge Martin Nolan noted the department had not lost out "too much" in the fraud.

Byrne did not claim his legitimate payments because he was a chronic alcoholic and "couldn't face the bureaucracy".

Defence counsel Shane Costelloe said he lived in "Dickensian conditions" without electricity or gas.

He spent the money on €14 bottles of whiskey every day and little else, and hasn't worked since the late 1980s.

"If Behan had written about this in the 50s, nobody would have batted an eyelid, but the fact that this was happening in the Noughties is just shocking," Mr Costelloe said.

Judge Nolan called it a "bizarre case" and noted that Byrne was worse off than if he had gotten the payments he was entitled to. He sentenced him to 30 months, suspended in full for 30 months.

Byrne, of Comeragh Road, Drimnagh, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to the theft of €41,369 from the Department of Social Welfare between September 2005 and August 2009.

Garda Caroline O'Donnell said a Gerry Nugent passed away in 2001 but his disability payments continued to be drawn. Byrne had met an unidentified man in a Wicklow pub who gave him Mr Nugent's social welfare book in return for a share of the weekly payments.

From September 2005, Byrne began withdrawing Mr Nugent's payments. He would then give a portion of it to the other man and spend the rest on alcohol.

As an unemployed man with health difficulties, Byrne was entitled to his own social welfare payments but never organised signing up for the service.

In 2009 the department noticed something was wrong and alerted gardai.

Surveillance

They set up a surveillance operation at the post office on Richmond Street and observed Byrne withdraw a payment under Mr Nugent's name.

When gardai stopped him, he initially claimed he was Mr Nugent, but later admitted everything. He said he intended to stop claiming the money because he knew he would be caught.

Mr Costelloe said his client tried to get a loan to pay the money back but was refused. He said he had no previous convictions and felt deep remorse for the theft.

Irish Independent

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