Friday 20 April 2018

Pensioner who stole €100k in benefits caught by facial recognition technology

Marie McMahon (68), of Aideen Avenue, Terenure
Marie McMahon (68), of Aideen Avenue, Terenure

Sonya McLean

A pensioner who stole over €100,000 by using her sister's social welfare card to fraudulently collect her benefits for 12 years has been remanded on bail pending sentence next June.

Marie McMahon (68) told gardaí that when her sister Katherine emigrated to the States in 1992, her friend initially used the woman's social welfare card to pick up her benefits. When this woman went into hospital McMahon agreed to continue collecting the payments and they split the money between them.

This woman later died in 2012 and McMahon continued to collect her sister's benefits until she was detected through facial recognition technology in July 2014.

She told officers that she believed if she stopped collecting the money, social welfare would have to start an investigation and she would be caught, so she decided to continue with the fraud.

McMahon of Aideen Avenue, Terenure, Dublin pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 13 charges of stealing various amounts of social welfare payments from James's Street Post Office on dates between September 1, 2002 and June 11, 2014. She has one previous conviction for possession of drugs from 1979.

Tony McGillicuddy BL, prosecuting told Judge Melanie Greally that the Director of Public Prosecutions accepted the pleas as sample counts and that the fraud had been going on from 2002 to 2014. A total of €101, 538.80 was stolen.

McMahon told gardaí in interview that she had been collecting it for 20 years.

Garda Richard Pender said McMahon was caught when she arrived at a social welfare office in 2013 and staff felt that the passport photo she presented didn't match the photo on the card.

Further analysis through facial recognition technology concluded that she was not Katherine McMahon as she had pretended to be.

Patrick Brennan, a social welfare inspector then called to her house in December that year, took her details and spoke to her at length. He later tried to call to a different address provided for Katherine McMahon but couldn't get an answer.

In July 2014 he asked for Katherine McMahon to call at his office for interview and the accused turned up. She insisted she was Katherine McMahon but he recognised her as Marie McMahon.

Mr Brennan asked the woman if she remembered meeting him before but she said she couldn't recall him.

He then rang the mobile number he had for Marie McMahon and the woman's phone went off in her pocket. When he told her it was him ringing her, she admitted that she remembered meeting him and confirmed that she had been claiming her sister's benefit for almost 20 years.

Katherine McMahon's payments were suspended from that date.

McMahon was arrested and interviewed by gardaí. She made full admissions.

Gda Pender agreed with Lorcan Staines BL, defending that although gardaí obviously couldn't investigate McMahon's claim that another woman had first started taking her sister's benefit, he felt it was a believable story.

He accepted that she lived in “very difficult circumstances” and had no trappings of wealth.

Gda Pender also accepted that McMahon has one son, who she said was trouble as a child and that she was forced to pay out drug debts on his behalf on more than 20 occasions.

Mr Staines handed in a large volume of testimonials and said his client had been involved in a protest movement in relation to woman's rights for many years.

Judge Melanie Greally adjourned the case to June 7 next to allow her time to consider the testimonials. She also ordered a probation report for that date.

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