Tuesday 23 January 2018

Woman guilty of fraudulently claiming €31k in social welfare payments given community service

Patricia Sweeney pictured outside Blanchardstown Court.
Patricia Sweeney pictured outside Blanchardstown Court.

Sonya McLean and Fiona Ferguson

A woman who defrauded the State of over €31,000 by claiming social welfare she was not entitled to has been ordered to perform 240 hours community service in lieu of a prison sentence.

Patricia Sweeney (60), who was working as a cleaner for a primary school at the time, also forged “declaration of unemployment” forms by signing the principal's name and using the school stamp.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that Sweeney was entitled to work a 12 hour week on a casual basis and still claim her job seekers allowance. Deductions would be made on her benefit for the days she worked, but she had to be unemployed for three consecutive days out of a six day week.

Detective Garda Niamh Seberry told Antonia Boyle BL, prosecuting, that Sweeney had been working her hours over a three day week.

However in 2011 the school's board of management decided that a cleaner was needed in the school five days each week. Sweeney was then contracted to work the 12 hours over five days, meaning she was no longer entitled to the job seeker's allowance.

She continued to claim that she was working the hours over the course of three days and provided the Department of Social Department with the fake “declaration of unemployment” forms to support her claim.

Sweeney of Foxdene Green, Clondalkin, Dublin pleaded guilty to 21 sample counts of theft and forgery on dates between February 2011 and February 2015. The total amount overpaid to her was €31,700.70. She has no previous convictions.

Det Gda Seberry agreed with Elizabeth Davey BL, defending that Sweeney had been working in the school for 19 years and had always received weekly pay of €112. Her wages remained the same when she was required to work her 12 hours over five days rather than three.

Sweeney admitted to gardaí in interview that she had used the school stamp without permission having spotted it in the secretary's office. She agreed that she had also signed the principal's names on the dockets.

Det Gda Seberry agreed with Ms Davey that Sweeney was immediately dismissed from the school. She is currently on job seeker's allowance but it is being deducted by €27.90 per week until the debt is cleared. She has paid back €1,649 so far.

Ms Davey handed in letters of remorse from her client. She said Sweeney accepted completely that she was in the wrong and shouldn't have done it. She was embarrassed and ashamed of her actions.

Judge Melanie Greally said that the offending was borne of financial hardship. She noted Sweeney had made full admissions and entered an early guilty plea. She said Sweeney was now making efforts to pay off the money and was deemed at low risk of re-offending by The Probation Service.

Judge Greally imposed 240 hours community service in lieu of 12 months imprisonment on the first count and imposed two year suspended sentences on the remaining counts.

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