‘Embarrassed’ businessman who fraudulently obtained €700k to fund family’s lifestyle receives suspended sentence


‘Embarrassed’ businessman who fraudulently obtained €700k to fund family’s lifestyle receives suspended sentence

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An unsuccessful businessman who was “embarrassed” to admit he could not fund his family’s lifestyle has been given a suspended sentence for fraudulently obtaining over €700,000.

Neil O’Brien (62), of Rathbeggan, Dunshaughlin, Co. Meath, pleaded guilty to forgery charges in relation to cheques, transfer instructions and withdrawals relating to bank accounts in the name of his former wife and daughter on dates between 2002 and 2008. He has no previous convictions.

He also admitted two counts of false accounting on dates between January 2009 and August 2013.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard his former wife, one of the victims of his offences, did not believe there would be any benefit to a custodial sentence and that there were no victim impact statements before the court.

Judge Karen O’Connor said it was a difficult case in which a family was estranged, a marriage “devastated” and O’Brien now had no financial means and serious mental health issues.

She said she was satisfied there were exceptional circumstances in the case to allow her to depart from a custodial sentence.

She imposed a three year fully suspended sentence on condition O’Brien continues to engage in psychological services and takes medication prescribed to him.

Garda Kieran Tansey told Bernard Condon SC, prosecuting, that O’Brien’s father-in-law had invested in a company in which O’Brien was involved and in 2011 he wanted to transfer his interest in the company to his grandchildren.

He said it was discovered that the company had been struck off the company register in 2008 but in the meantime, O’Brien had prepared bank statements in the name of the company suggesting it was still operating.

O’Brien’s then wife carried out an analysis of her bank accounts and discovered a significant number of transactions which had been carried out without her consent. Some of the money related to an inheritance left to his wife.

A forensic accountant put the figure that went to O’Brien at €721,000 and this was shown to have been applied largely to family expenses, including a credit card that was not in his name.

The couple’s daughter had a cheque drawn from her bank account in the figure of €3,000.

The court heard O’Brien was involved in a number of businesses including a petrol station, property investment and wine importation which were not successful. The couple, who have three children, separated in 2011.

O’Brien spoke to gardaí in March 2014 and admitted that his wife had not been consulted about the transactions. He said he was not a good money manager.

O’Brien told gardaí he understood it was wrong to do it without her consent and said he had been embarrassed to tell his wife he could not fund their lifestyle.

Gda Tansey agreed with Sean Guerin SC, defending, that in cases such as this gardaí would expect to find gambling or a drinking problem but this was not present in this case.

“He said they were living beyond their means but in reality, they were living beyond his means,” said Mr Guerin.

The garda agreed that greed was not the motivation, that O’Brien had not been able to provide for his family and allowed them to continue living a lifestyle he could not fund.

He agreed that O’Brien’s wife had been contacted by the bank about one of the transfers and that she had trusted him after he told her it was a once off as his business was in difficulty.

Mr Guerin asked the court to take into account his client’s early guilty plea and his full co-operation.

He said it was not a case of greed or avarice but financial inadequacy. He said O’Brien offered his full apologies to the court and to the victims.

He handed in a letter from his daughter who said O’Brien was a supportive father and said the acts were out of character. He also handed in a testimonial from O’Brien’s brother and medical reports outlining his client’s treatment in relation to depression.

Counsel asked the court to take into account the complete breakdown in O’Brien’s social standing, his health, loss of contact with his family and his descent into despair.

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