A man who defrauded the State out of more than €16,000 worth of social welfare was jailed for three months this week (March 25 ).
Despite hearing that Dermot Nestor (38 ), from Kiltoom, Athlone had been “very co-operative” with investigators after the overpayments came to light last March, Judge Seamus Hughes was less than sympathetic when he heard how little had been repaid to date.
“If your client thinks he can walk out of this court after paying just €83 on a €16,000 debt, and expect just a small fine, he is living in cloud cuckoo land,” said the judge to defending solicitor, Mr Padraig Quinn.
Earlier the court heard how Nestor had failed to disclose changes in his circumstances, and had made false declarations to the Department of Social Protection whilst employed as a part-time worker in Dunnes Stores, Montree for a number of periods between November 2010 and January 2013.
Special investigator Martin Egan for the Department said Nestor owed a total of €16,294, but had made repayments of just €83.33.
Mr Quinn explained how his client was no longer in receipt of social welfare, but was receiving €208 per week on a FÁS scheme as a caretaker.
“He’s still getting State funds, and there’s nothing stopping him from making an offer, but he hasn’t,” noted the judge.
“Where does it fit within the scheme of frauds you deal with?” the judge asked Mr Egan.
“Average, middle of the road,” said Mr Egan.
When Mr Quinn then described his client as having been “very co-operative” with the investigation, Mr Egan agreed with the judge’s assertion that he “didn’t actually need his co-operation”, but that the investigation was “easier”.
Mr Quinn pointed out that his client “would’ve usually worked just two days a week, and could’ve been called in without knowing when he was working next”.
He explained that though the FÁS position was coming to an end in April, his client had a number of job interviews lined up and planned to start a proper repayment schedule.
Remembering a similar case from Mullingar where the defendant appealed his decision to the Circuit Court, Judge Hughes recalled: “Judge Hunt told him if he wished to appeal [the decision of the lower court] he has to come to court with money”.
Judge Hughes then sentenced Nestor to three months in prison, fined him €500, and ordered him to pay €650 in costs.
Mr Quinn asked the judge would he consider suspending the sentence, but the judge demurred.
“I’m following the higher court direction. There is a fixed avenue available to him if he digs deep and comes up with money for Judge Hunt,” said the judge, before setting Nestor’s own bail at €300, with an additional independent surety of €400.