Thursday 26 April 2018

End of the line for Twist 'charities'

Oliver Williams arriving at Sligo Courthouse with his solicitor Mr Tom MacSharry
Oliver Williams arriving at Sligo Courthouse with his solicitor Mr Tom MacSharry

Two so-called charity premises have been closed and its operator given a five month suspended jail term by Judge Kevin Kilrane at Sligo District Court. He said there were a number of worrying features about how the Twist charity clothes shop at Quay Street and a Twist charity soup kitchen at High Street were being run by Oliver Williams (50).

"It's important that he is stopped in his tracks," said the Judge about Williams who had failed to register with the Charities Regulatory Authority.

The case had been adjourned from the previous week but Williams had sent in an incomplete application to register, didn't put his own name to the document and had named two men as trustees of his proposed charity, one of whom was the landlord of the premises. The names of the two trustees were entered on the document in Irish and the defendant had difficulty in reading the names to the court when asked to do so by the Judge.

Williams, a father of four from Loughrea, Galway and who has previous convictions under the Theft and Fraud Offences Act and for possession of stolen property, told the court the previous week that the clothes shop made no money, only enough to cover the €100 a week rent on both premises.The court was told that anyone buying clothes or other items at the shop at Quay Street weren't given any receipts and Williams said there was nothing in the bank account.

Williams admitted nine offences brought by the Charities Regulatory Authority with regard to the Twist premises in November and December 2016.

Letters were sent to Williams requesting him to cease and desist from trading towards the end of last year but these were ignored. Last week, Williams was ordered to close the premises and Judge Kilrane was told this had been done and while a ledger book had been handed over to defence solicitor Tom MacSharry which had also been directed, cash on the premises amounting to €132 wasn't, with the defendant saying this had gone to paying the rent.

Gerry Coller, a licensed investigator with the authority said he went to the Twist charity clothes shop at 14 Quay Street on various dates last November. It sold bric-a-brac, small toys, clothes and second hand goods generally. The shop took in donations and made cash sales. There was no cash register and no receipts were issued for sales. The witness bought two books on November 22nd and he didn't see sales being recorded in any book. He said he believed the defendant was a mechanic by trade and also referred to a 1916 calendar produced by the Twist charity which had a number attached but which was not a registered charity number. Mr Coller also referred to a mobile number which was on two signs above the premises and which was the same as one on a garage called Williams Car Care in Loughrea. Mr MacSharry said this business had closed last September. The man had paid €1.50 for the two books he bought. He agreed that the food being served at the soup kitchen on High Street was free of charge.

CEO of the Charities Regulatory Authority, John Farrelly told Mr MacSharry that once the body received a complete application its processing took about three months. An application can be done online and then the authority would interview nominated trustees, look at the proposed constitution and how the charity was to be governed. The application submitted by the defendant in the past week was deemed incomplete. "The financial records are missing for instance," he said.

Mr MacSharry said the defendant had been working around the clock over the previous week on the application.

Mr Farrelly said his modus operandi was to help people become charities. There was a call centre in place where applicants queries were dealt with in order to get to the complete and full stage of an application.

"The application process is not that serious to be honest," said witness. He said the authority was very cognisant of the beneficiaries in this matter and they had been in touch with Sligo Social Services who would be capable of addressing these needs and also St Vincent De Paul Society locally in regards to the gifts. He said they had tried to work with the defendant and they didn't want this situation.

"We have done everything we can," he said, adding: "We have to ensure that donations including those online are for a charitable purpose. We don't take this kind of action lightly," he said. Judge Kilrane said he noted that he was concerned the defandant's name was not on the application. Asked who the trustees were, the defendant replied after some hesitation that they were a Mr McCarrick and a Thomas Gormally from Kilcolgan. The witness paid rent to Mr McCarrick for both premises. He was asked why the men's names were in Irish on the form and the defendant replied he didn't know if they went by their Irish names all the time and that they may use both.

Mr Keane BL, for the authority, said it was the most unusual spelling of names in Irish he had come across. Williams said the number on the calendar was got from Revenue when they were in charge of regulating charities. He said he had shops in Galway, Athlone and Loughrea but Sligo was the only one he had left.

Judge Kilrane said the entire charity business had come under scrutiny in recent years and breaches that have come to light could be put down to well meaning and naive people or downright criminality, the latter being a feature of some high profile cases with many decent charities suffering as a result. It was essential that the public had confidence in charities. They must be registered, operated by people of good standing and there had to be day to day governance.

The Judge said the defendant didn't seem to understand the seriousness of the situation and thought he could get away with matters. He rushed a last minute application and rather than impressing the court he had done the opposite. His own name was absent and one of the proposed trustees was his landlord. He also didn't appear to know much about the application. "Why is his name not on it? Presumably to conceal his identity" - Judge. He said the 1916 calendar was completely misleading and downright fraudulent. "The good thing is that he has been stopped and that the operation was dealing in relatively small sums of money. "One can only say that I hope that is the case. No one will know what he received from this shop," said the Judge. He imposed a five month jail term, suspended on condition he does not engage in any charitable business for two years. He must also not apply for charitable registration in his own name or that of another. The stock currently at the shop is to go to St. Vincent De Paul and he is also to close his Facebook and cease online donations.

Sligo Champion