TWO brothers were jailed yesterday for defrauding an elderly and vulnerable widow of more than €440,000.
Cancer sufferer Mary Ellen Walsh (71), of Craughwell, Co Galway, had been left virtually destitute and in fear of her life as a result of their actions, Galway Circuit Court was told.
Conor Murphy (42), of Castle Park, Galway, was the brains behind the year-long scam and the major beneficiary, while his brother, Jimmy Murphy (48), of Ballydesmond, Co Cork, also walked away with thousands of euro of Mrs Walsh's money.
The court heard last month that Mrs Walsh believed she had met "two angels from heaven" when she first encountered the brothers.
She had sold property in Oranmore, Co Galway, and moved to Craughwell in 2006. She was living alone when she was introduced to the Murphy brothers.
The men knew she was religious and brought her various religious objects. Conor Murphy told her he was a visionary and had visions of her dead brother.
He gained her confidence by telling her he too was suffering from cancer, but this was a lie, the court heard.
He used various deceptions to interest Mrs Walsh in the purchase of 35 acres of land at Moycullen. The brothers did not own any land, but soon Mrs Walsh was writing cheques for them.
Conor Murphy admitted six sample charges of inducing her to make out 49 cheques payable to him for a total of €367,100. Jimmy Murphy pleaded guilty to two sample charges of extorting €28,500 from Mrs Walsh.
The court heard that Mrs Walsh's ATM card was also used, sometimes twice a day, and at times when she was in hospital and could not have used it. Extra money obtained by the brothers brought the total to €444,500.
In court, senior counsel Paul Flannery and Bernard Madden said they were instructed to offer apologies and express remorse for their clients' actions. Both acknowledged they were doing so late in the day and were conscious their apologies carried little weight.
Both men were receiving disability payments and neither had any money with which to repay Mrs Walsh. Judge Raymond Groarke said it was as mean and as miserable a series of crimes as he had come across and the victim in the case had been a trusting person.
Mrs Walsh now felt foolish and belittled by what the brothers had done to her and was in fear of her life as Conor Murphy had told her he had friends in the IRA, the court heard.
The judge sentenced Conor Murphy to five years in prison and imposed a sentence of two years in jail on Jimmy Murphy.