Saturday 17 March 2018

Credit union chief in €52k Mercedes 'hijacking' scam

Businessman claimed his luxury car was taken by force by three men in Ulster

FALSE CLAIM: Patrick Laffin has pleaded guilty to fraud
FALSE CLAIM: Patrick Laffin has pleaded guilty to fraud
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

He was a respectable businessman and horseracing enthusiast who sat on the board of his local credit union, but last week Patrick Laffin admitted to attempting an elaborate insurance fraud, splashing out €52,000 on a top-of-the-range Mercedes and then falsely claiming that it was stolen.

Mr Laffin, who has since resigned as a director of Rathkeale Credit Union, invented an elaborate tale that his luxury car was "hijacked" as he drove through Northern Ireland because it would sound more "believable". Suspicious investigators with Axa insurance found the car in storage and reported him to gardai.

Mr Laffin pleaded guilty to attempting to make a gain by deception in a case that reflects the clamp down on bogus insurance claims by industry investigators, who say that false claims cost the industry €200m a year and add €50 to the average policy.

The industry lobby group, Insurance Ireland, said fraudulent insurance claims have increased by a third since 2008, and there is also sharp rise in gangs of people organising staged accidents with multiple "victims" seeking personal injury payouts of up to €15,000 a piece. More than 30 suspected staged car accidents have been identified in the West of Ireland, with 170 submitting claims amounting to more than €2m, according to Axa's fraud investigations manager Colm Featherstone. Aviva, another major insurer, has identified six fraud rings in Galway, Cork, Swords, Tallaght, Ennis and Louth.

At his sentencing hearing in Limerick Circuit Court last week, Judge Tom O'Donnell said Axa's investigation team was to be congratulated on the Patrick Laffin case, a "striking feature" of which the "considerable waste of police time".

The court heard that in 2012 he bought the brand new 12C E220 Mercedes. In an "unusual" move, he took out a policy with Axa that would give him what he paid for the car if it was stolen, rather than its depreciated market value.

More than a year later, on December 16, 2013, Mr Laffin walked into a police station in Newtownards in Northern Ireland at 9.30pm, claiming that his valuable Mercedes had just been hijacked a few miles outside the town.

He claimed that he spent the day at the races in Westmeath and drove on to Newry to do some shopping. He then drove to visit friends in Newtownard when he claimed a dark van cut across him, and he was forced out of his car by three men, one of whom called him a "Fenian" bastard.

Axa processed the claim for €52,000, while the PSNI mounted an investigation, scouring through hours of CCTV footage. But the PSNI found no evidence of a hijack, Axa's investigators became suspicious but the court heard Mr Laffin pursued the claim, threatening legal action.

In March last year, Axa was on the point of paying out when the insurer's fraud investigators found "a connection" between Mr Laffin and the owner of a garage in Limerick. The Mercedes was discovered, under a tarpaulin, with the registration plates in the boot. Mr Laffin had asked the innocent garage owner to store it. Mr Laffin's barrister told the court that the attempted fraud was "a reaction to the recession". He was in difficulties with his mortgage, both his credit cards were maxed out at €13,000 and he had a €10,000 credit union loan.

But the judge asked how he could reconcile someone cashing in a savings policy to buy a €52,000 Mercedes when he was in so much difficulty. Judge Tom O'Donnell adjourned Mr Laffin's sentencing to October.

Sunday Independent

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