Friday 20 April 2018

Man jailed for stealing €85k from State by claiming social welfare under false name 463 times loses appeal

Stock picture
Stock picture

Ruaidhrí Giblin

A man jailed for stealing €85,000 from the State by claiming social welfare under a false name 463 times, has lost an appeal against the severity of this three year prison sentence.

Stefan Onofrei (35), with an address at Bremore, Castlegate, Balbriggan, had pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to six sample counts of theft of job seeker's benefit, job seeker's allowance, supplementary welfare allowance, emergency means payment, rent property supplement allowance and family income supplement between January 9, 2009 and February 10, 2015.

He was sentenced to three years imprisonment by Judge Martin Nolan on July 15, 2015.

Onofrei lost an appeal against the severity of his sentence today.

The Court of Appeal heard that he had originally been charged with 436 counts on the indictment because each time he went to claim a payment using a bogus name, he was committing a different offence on each occasion.

Giving judgment, Mr Justice George Birmingham said the Circuit Court judge approached sentencing on the basis that the loss to the State fell within the range of €85,000 to €90,000

Mr Justice Birmingham said Onofrei was a Romanian national who came to the State before the Accession Treaty between the EU and his home country had taken full effect.

The result was that while he was able to travel to Ireland he was not entitled to work legally.

On his arrival he engaged in forms of casual work such as gardening, power washing and cutting trees. Then he equipped himself with a false ID and false PPS number by acquiring a Lithuanian passport and driving license, Mr Justice Birmingham said.

With the false ID and PPS number he was in a position to obtain work in the construction industry and during that time he paid taxes appropriately, the judge said.

In 2009, he lost his job and at that stage proceeded to claim jobseekers allowance then other forms of social welfare.

The bulk of the monies involved were obtained through the use of the false ID, Mr Justice Birmingham said, but the family income supplement, to which he was not entitled because his wife was working at the time, was claimed in his own name.

Onofrei's barrister, Michael Bowman SC, submitted that the judge should have considered a partial suspension of his client's three year sentence having regard to the manner in which he approached the case.

Onefrei was a married father of two at the time of sentencing, had no previous convictions and had cooperated with the gardaí, Mr Justice Birmingham said.

The point had been made, Mr Justice Birmingham said, that the debt to the State remains and steps will be taken to recover it.

However, the effect to which any such effort would be successful remained to be seen and must be in doubt, the judge said.

It was prolonged, persistent offending and had to be regarded as serious, Mr Justice Birmingham said.

He said the court could only intervene if an error in principle was identified and only if the sentence imposed was not one that was available to the sentencing judge.

The sentence selected by the judge was one that was open to him, Mr Justice Birmingham said. It fell within the range of available sentences and the approach he took was not one that disclosed any error in principle.

Accordingly, Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice Alan Mahon, dismissed the appeal.

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News