Suspended sentences and fines for organised and intimidating begging

Three women and one man have been given fines and suspended sentences for their part in a suspected organised begging industry.

The first to appear before Galway District Court on Monday was Francisca Gheorghe (57 ) with an address at 89 Thornbury Drive, Willowpark, Athlone, Westmeath charged with harassing, intimidating, or obstructing the passage of persons while begging on July 7, 2012.

Garda Emma Kerin gave evidence that while on duty during the Volvo Ocean Race on July 7 she observed Gheorghe at 2.15am on Cross Street holding a paper cup, putting it into the face of two men and blocking their way. Garda Kerin cautioned the defendant to desist and leave the area however 10 minutes later Gheorghe was seen blocking the passage of members of the public and “waving” a paper cup, containing “jingling” coins, in a man’s face. Garda Kerin then explained that the defendant was part of a large Roma family and she would travel from Athlone to Galway regularly for the purpose of begging.

Defence solicitor Valerie Corcoran said that her client had been hospitalised recently, that she lives on the kindness of family, and has no skill to earn money. Ms Corcoran added that Gheorghe was “just trying to survive”.

Judge Mary Fahy noted that there has been many cases in which people have travelled from other areas and are dropped off by someone or “bussed in” for begging. She added they are “trying to make a bit of an industry”. Gheorghe was then convicted and sentenced to one month suspended for 12 months on condition that she be of good behaviour and stay away from Galway city and county.

Dorin Goman (23 ) of the same address also pleaded guilty to the same offence. Inspector Ernie Wyte told the court that on June 9 at 12.50am the defendant was seen at Wolfe Tone Bridge sitting on the ground begging. He added that Goman had been obstructing the passage of pedestrians and asking for money.

Ms Corcoran said Goman had been considered for an adult caution and that a conviction could affect his potential for training and qualifying.

“If these people are being bussed around, I would have concern that he would allow himself to be used by others. I will give him a chance to do something better with his life but if he comes before this court again he will be looking at a sentence,” warned Judge Fahy before fining Goman €200 with four months to pay or 10 days jail in default.

Ica Muntean (27 ) with an address at 130 Meadow Brook, Willow Park, Athlone, and Rozalia Muntean (32 ) with an address at 115 Meadow Brook, Willow Park, Athlone, also appeared before Monday’s sitting both charged with two counts of the same offence.

Garda Kerin gave evidence that the Volvo Ocean Race was taking place on July 7, 2012, when at 11.35pm she observed the two defendants at Middle Street holding paper cups and standing side by side. “They were singling out men, and made a bee line for them so that they could not pass them. They were saying ‘please please’ and waving the cups in their faces,” said Garda Kerin, who added that she had been on duty the whole weekend and had seen them doing the same thing on two other occasions. The two women were seen on June 24 this year on Quay Street at 12.05am begging with paper cups in their hands and approaching people. The court heard that these two defendants had also been brought from Athlone and dropped off in Galway for the purpose of begging. The court heard that Ica Muntean has 13 previous convictions, majority for theft, while Rozalia Muntean has 26 convictions, mainly for theft.

Judge Fahy convicted both women and sentenced them to two months in jail suspended for two years on condition that they be of good behaviour and stay away from Galway city and county and were also fined €400 each with four months to pay.

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