Saturday 16 December 2017

Secret cash of welfare fraudster

Hundreds of thousands of euro were flowing through the secret bank accounts of a social welfare fraudster while she was claiming tens of thousands in social welfare benefits, Dundalk Circuit Court has been told.

Tara McKenna (53), Shannon House, Channonrock, admitted sample counts of making false declarations for Job Seekers' benefit and Back to School Allowance totalling more than €56,000 on dates between February 22 2012 and May 26 2015.

She is originally from England and worked in her family's haulage business before moving to Northern Ireland where she was a post mistress prior to coming South.

McKenna was caught by a special joint operation between Gardai and the Department of Social Protection who investigated those who had been making claims for a number of years. Every month between those dates, McKenna had signed a declaration that she was out of work and met the income threshold for the payments, but investigators uncovered two secret bank accounts - one in which €483,000 had been lodged, with €450,000 withdrawn, while the second, which McKenna initially didn't tell the detectives about, had €226,000 going through it.

Investigators found out that McKenna's husband, Paul, had been working in the mining industry in Africa and had sent the payments to her accounts. She claimed she was separated from her husband since 2012, but a Garda told Dundalk Circuit Court it was her belief the couple were only 'geographically separated' and he was continuing to support her and their five children.

During a formal interview with detectives in May 2015, McKenna said her husband had been working in Africa and he had sent the money to her to cover mortgage payments and living expenses.

The Garda said she believed McKenna 'had enjoyed a good standard of living from the money from Africa'. The court heard just €800 has been paid back so far, with McKenna agreeing to paying back the Social Protection Department €100 a month. In addition, a bank draft for €10,000 was in court made out to the department.

Judge Michael O'Shea was told that Paul McKenna had previously run a successful business, but it had collapsed in 2010 because of the recession.

Barrister Irene Sands said McKenna, who has no previous convictions, is in the process of separating from her husband.

The barrister said the money was being put through McKenna's own accounts 'because her husband had debts' from his previous business.

McKenna had made the claim for social welfare for the family in 2011 after her husband's firm went bust, and this initial claim was legitimate and correct.

But the defendant should have told the social welfare office that her husband was contributing. Ms Sands said: 'The payments he sent were large sums, but it was erratic and the money was being spent on machinery etc. He couldn't use his own account because he was in debt to creditors. She was not the beneficiary of these vast sums of money'.

Ms Sands added McKenna had met the Probation Service a number of times ahead of the sentencing report they had prepared, including on one occasion with her husband. She is a full-time mother and homemaker, had shown remorse and has recently been diagnosed with a neurological condition that could be a 'pre-cursor to MS'.

Judge O'Shea said the money involved in the social welfare payments was from the taxpayer. He said: 'There is a duty on every person to ensure that everything is done properly. There can be no concealment of material facts and the department is relying on the forthrightness and honesty of the applicant.

'She acted dishonestly and knowingly concealed material facts which was social welfare fraud'.

He imposed a two year sentence, but suspended it for two years on condition that McKenna continue to pay back the Department of Social Protection.

The Argus

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