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Mother jailed for €229,000 social welfare fraud

A MOTHER of six who claimed nearly €250,000 in social welfare payments, while she had hundreds of thousands of euros in the bank, has been jailed for three years.

Mary Connors (36) claimed the money over the course of 14 years. In that time over €1.2 million from her husband’s business passed through her multiple bank accounts.

Judge Martin Nolan imposed the maximum sentence allowed for the offence, stating he had to send out a message to those who commit social welfare fraud.

The judge rejected Connors’ claim that her husband would not allow her to use the money in the accounts for the family and that she had to claim social welfare to get by.

Noting that the accounts were in Connors’ name, he said: “I don’t think I can accept she was under her husband’s control; she’s responsible for her own actions”

The court heard the money in the accounts came from her husband buying and selling cars but that the accounts were in her name because he couldn’t be trusted due to his chronic alcoholism.

Judge Nolan said such crimes are “by their nature difficult to detect” and that the courts must send a message.

He noted that all the money has since been repaid but said that a custodial sentence must be imposed. Connors wailed and screamed as she was led away by prison officers to begin her sentence.

Connors of Cloonmore Park, Tallaght pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to eight sample counts of failing to notify the Department of Social Protection of an increase in her means between July 1996 and April 2010. She has six previous convictions including burglary and handling stolen property.

Detective Garda Gary Sheridan told prosecuting counsel Fiona Murphy BL that gardai were searching Connors home in connection with a separate matter when they came across documentation showing she had €131,000 in a Permanent TSB account.

An investigation was started and it was found she had another TSB account containing €155,400 as well as an investment bond worth €15,000. Since the first account was opened in 1992, over €1.2 million was lodged into them and €969,000 withdrawn.

Since 1996 Connors claimed social welfare payments for her and her husband totalling €229,453. When she was caught she was claiming €504 a week.

When investigators discovered the fraud her accounts were frozen. Connors attempted to withdraw the cash shortly afterwards but was stopped by the bank.

Defence counsel Kieran Kelly BL said the money in the accounts came from her husband’s car business and that he was not registered as a business owner.

He said Connors used the social welfare money for day to day living as she was not allowed to spend the business money on the family.

Counsel said Connors has been admitted to women’s refuges forty times, sometimes with injuries, because of her husband’s drink problem. He said she is a member of the travelling community and that she married at 17.

Mr Kelly submitted she is extremely remorseful and unlikely to come before the courts again.