Saturday 18 November 2017

Former insurance man helped organise €220k fake collisions scam

Tommy Maher from Scarteen, Newmarket, Co Cork charged on counts of causing loss or making gain by deception pictured at Cork Circuit Court
Tommy Maher from Scarteen, Newmarket, Co Cork charged on counts of causing loss or making gain by deception pictured at Cork Circuit Court
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

A FORMER insurance industry assessor who helped organise a car accident scam in which fake collisions were staged for spurious personal injury claims was jailed for two years

Tommy Maher (52) pleaded guilty to deception and false reporting charges in relation to six accidents in Cork from which three insurance companies faced total personal injury claim pay-outs of €219,000.

To date, just €44,000 has been recovered from a widespread scam which prompted Gardai to set up a special investigation.

Dubbed 'Operation Nascar', gardai managed to video-tape several accidents being staged and eventually arrested a total of 26 people.

Accidents were staged in Cork city, Youghal, Mallow and Mitchelstown.

Maher of Scarteen, Newmarket, Cork pleaded guilty before Cork Circuit Criminal Court to a total of six deception charges in relation to six accidents staged across Cork between February 17 2011 and September 26 2012.

He also pleaded guilty to three counts of making false reports to the gardai.

Maher insisted to gardai he did not financially benefit from the scam - but Det Sergeant Sean Leahy said multiple people questioned by detectives indicated they had paid money to the defendant.

Maher today offered €25,000 in compensation.

The scam revolved around those who lodged fake personal injury claims paying a percentage of their compensation to the organisers as a staging fee.

Det Sergeant Leahy said it was his belief that Maher was the leader of the gang.

He added that Maher, using his knowledge of the insurance industry, advised that insurance firms were more likely to pay out nominal amounts for such relatively minor road traffic accidents than engage in lengthy and costly litigation.

However, defence counsel Donal O'Sullivan BL contended that while Maher admitted to be an organiser of the scam, he was not the only principal involved.

Judge Sean O'Donnabhain was told that Maher helped recruit people for the staged accidents.

The scheme involved a driver ramming an empty car from behind.

A third vehicle - sometimes a BMW driven by Maher - would arrive at the scene and people would climb into the damaged car and then claim to be injured.

In one case, five people got into a damaged car and later complained of injuries.

Both gardai and paramedics would be called to the scene of the fake accident and those involved in the scam would claim to have soft-tissue or whip lash injuries.

Det Sergeant Leahy said Quinn/Liberty Insurance, Aviva and Axa paid out a total of €165,623 over three accidents and €54,000 over a fourth.

In two cases, insurance firms refused to pay out because gardai had warned them the accidents involved were highly suspicious.

The court was told that Maher, a father of three, had run into severe financial problems when the Irish construction industry collapsed.

He had worked as an insurance industry assessor and a publican before developing a very successful construction and property business in north Cork.

That ran into severe difficulties from 2009.

Between 2010 and 2011 the defendant had been treated for mental health issues including severe depression.

His deepening financial problems led him to get involved in staging the fake traffic accidents.

Judge O'Donnabhain said it was a very serious matter with ordinary road users paying the price for the scam through higher insurance premia.

He imposed a three year prison sentence but suspended the final 12 months in light of Maher's plea, remorse and co-operation with gardai.

'Operation Nascar' was launched in 2012 following multiple complaints from insurance and motor companies in relation to suspicious damages claims.

It was directed from Anglesea Street Garda Station.

'Operation Nascar' was led by the organised crime and fraud investigation unit with the support of detectives in several Munster counties.

To date, 16 people have been prosecuted in relation to the scam.

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