A Newcastle man who tried to “hoodwink” and intimidate a vulnerable 81-year-old woman by demanding payment of €700 for the cutting down of trees received an eight-month suspended sentence at Galway District Court this week.
Describing the incident as “despicable”, Judge Mary Fahy said that the incident was clearly an attempt by 39-year-old Thomas Coen to take advantage and that such intimidation and “preying on the elderly” will not be tolerated.
At Monday’s court sitting Coen, with an address at 181 Corrib Park, Newcastle, pleaded guilty to dishonestly by deception inducing an elderly woman to write a cheque to the value of €600 with the intention of making gain, contrary to Section 6 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud ) Act 2001, at her house at Newcastle Park on July 14, 2010.
The State withdrew a further offence of making a demand on the same woman for payment of a debt, after having made such demands in a calculated manner to subject the woman to alarm, distress, or humiliation by falsely representing that criminal proceedings would be brought for non payment of the debt, and that he was authorised in some official capacity to enforce the payment, contrary to Section 11 of the Non Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1977, on July 14, 2010.
Garda Sean McHugh told the court that Coen had been employed by the woman’s next door neighbour to carry out landscaping work. That same day Coen went to the woman’s house, uninvited, claiming that a number of her trees had to be cut down as they were interfering with ESB wires and that this would cost between €300 and €500. The woman, who was living alone, declined his offer to do the job, but, the following day Coen returned, telling her that he had gone ahead and completed the work anyway and that this would cost her €700. Garda McHugh said that the woman had felt intimidated and wrote a cheque for €600 to get him to leave and had intended to cancel this cheque the next day; however she found that the cheque had already been cashed.
Defence solicitor Noel Rhattigan explained that Coen had been employed by the woman’s neighbour and that the trees had been overgrowing onto the property next door. Mr Rhattigan added that Coen, a married father of three, accepts that because the woman was elderly she may have felt intimidated, and he is in a position to refund the full €600.
“He was taking advantage of an elderly person, he should be absolutely ashamed of himself. How low can you stoop?” said an unimpressed Judge Fahy who was then told that Coen has 12 previous convictions, the latest in 2005 for making a false declaration to obtain insurance, one conviction in 2001 for forgery, and others for theft.
“He has a history of deception,” noted Judge Fahy before warning Coen to come up with €1,000 or face a custodial sentence for the “intimidation and distress caused to this lady”.
When the case resumed an hour later the court heard that Coen had managed to put together €1,000. Mr Rhattigan further explained that the defendant, the sole provider for his family, has had trouble in the past but that there has been nothing in the last six years, and that he just wants to do “an honest day’s work”.
After taking the defendant’s circumstances into account Judge Fahy concluded: “What he did was absolutely despicable... I can’t get away from the fact that he tried to hoodwink an elderly and vulnerable person. This has to be treated seriously. The message has to go out that taking advantage of elderly people will not be tolerated.”
Coen was then convicted and sentenced to eight months in jail which was suspended for two years on condition that he enter into his own bond of €500 to be of good behaviour.