Suspended sentence for Leitrim farmer who claimed almost €30,000 in farm assist payments

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FarmIreland Team

A Leitrim farmer has been handed a 12-month suspended sentence after claiming farm assist payments of almost €30,000 from the Department of Social Protection, which he was not entitled to.

Carrick on Shannon Circuit Court this week heard 66-year-old Patrick Leonard pleaded guilty to obtaining Social Welfare payments by deception, Contrary to Section 251(1) of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 on a date in March 2010 after failing to declare he had several thousand euro in multiple bank accounts.

Department of Social Protection inspector Donal Carroll gave evidence last week of an investigation launched into Mr Leonard, of Cornamuckla North, Dowra, which began in 2015.

Low-income farmers who meet a means test are entitled to a social welfare payment of €198 per week – which inspectors believe Mr Leonard had been claiming for a number of years but which he was not entitled to as he had several thousand euro in savings in multiple bank accounts which he had not declared.

The former coal miner was questioned by the inspectors and initially denied the allegations.

However, the court heard that subsequent inquiries revealed that the pensioner had 23 accounts across four banks with an estimated total sum of up to €93,000 at the end of 2014.

Inspectors determined that the Leitrim man had received an overpayment of €29,000 across several years and of that sum, over €21,000 has so far been repaid to the department.

Disability benefit, of which the accused is entitled to due to ill health, is being withheld from Mr Leonard since the investigation began and he had also re-paid €4,000 in a lump sum.

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The court heard the 66-year-old bachelor was saving money to give to his brother that he felt he owed him and his defence barrister claimed that the accused did not live a lavish lifestyle and had ‘saved his pennies’ until he fell foul of a means test.

Judge John Alymer said the accused had claimed the money in a pre-meditated fashion but that the incident was an aberration on an otherwise good character and imposed a 12-month sentence, suspended for 12 months after Mr Leonard entered into a good behaviour bond of €100 euro.

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