A FORMER estate agent who stole €1.6m after using celebrity solicitor Gerald Kean's name to encourage 25 investors to participate in a 'Ponzi' scheme, has been jailed for six years.
Eamonn Kelly (48), who had owned two RE/MAX Auctioneers franchises, told investors they could make €15,000 profit within six months on a €50,000 investment if they purchased sites that he claimed to have identified in the UK.
Kelly, of Decies Road, Ballyfermot, Dublin, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to a number of sample charges of theft; one of producing a false instrument and one of forgery on dates between October 2007 and February 2010. He has no previous convictions.
Detective Garda Seamus Padden told the court that Kelly forged Mr Kean's signature on a letter that was then sent to potential investors to encourage them to invest in a bogus property operation in Manchester.
The letter stated that the solicitor was representing Kelly and that the estate agent acted as an advisor to Mr Kean. In fact, Mr Kean knew nothing about the letter.
Kelly also provided potential investors with a bogus letter from the Ulster Bank in Crumlin, stating that he had €4.6m on deposit there.
Det Gda Padden said the scheme involved 25 different groups from Dublin, Wexford and Donegal, whose investments ranged from €10,000 to €100,000.
Kelly used funds from later investors to repay profits to the early investors in order to encourage them to reinvest.
Det Gda Padden said the bulk of the funds, just over €1m, came from the Donegal investors.
He said Kelly had paid back €410,000 to a small number of investors before he was caught and €480,000 that he then held in three different bank accounts was frozen by order of the High Court following his arrest.
The scheme finally came to light after the bogus letter from Ulster Bank came to the attention of the bank, which contacted the gardai.
Kelly made full admissions to the gardai, said Det Gda Padden, and told them that he had started the scheme after running into financial difficulty following the property crash.
He said he was under pressure to keep up to date with his €8,000 monthly mortgage repayments on three properties belonging to him in Kildare, Dublin and Portugal.
Judge Martin Nolan described the offence as a "classic Ponzi scheme" and imposed consecutive sentences totalling six years.
The case was then adjourned in order to allow the State time to consider what should be done with the money frozen in Kelly's account.