Russian woman living in Mullingar “tricked” into handling stolen cash

A Russian woman who believed she was working as a financial agent for a legitimate company has been given a suspended sentence for handling stolen cash for them.

Elena Ribtchenok (52 ) of Mill Road, Mullingar, Westmeath, had been living in Ireland for over five years and working as a mushroom picker when she was contacted over the internet and offered the job.

She later told gardaí she was supplied with what she believed was a legitimate employment contract. She thought that the company was an underwriter for stocks where shares would be purchased for selling on later.

She was promised 7 per cent commission to transfer funds that had been lodged to her bank account to Russian via Western Union. Ribtchenok set up a National Irish Bank account for that purpose.

She pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to recklessly handling €13,000 in stolen money at NIB, College Green on November 5, 2008.

Judge Desmond Hogan accepted she was “tricked” into the situation but she should have been more aware of what was happening.

“She was guided into this by persons who may be older and wiser in the field on con-artistry,” he commented before imposing a two year suspended sentence.

Garda Jonathan Petree told Pieter Le Vert BL, prosecuting, that the managing director of a particular company noticed a problem with his e-banking system and contacted the NIB.

He then noticed that €19,860 had been withdrawn from his account over the course of three days between November 3, 4, and 5, 2008.

The bank investigated the problem and found that the funds had been transferred to Ribtchenok’s account.

It was discovered that she had opened the account two weeks earlier and €1,500 was withdrawn from her account on November 3, €4,500 withdrawn the following day and €13,000 withdrawn on November 5.

The balance of €1,135 was then frozen in her account.

Garda Petree said none of the €19,000 taken from the victim’s account was returned to him apart from the €1,135 which was frozen in her account. The bank fully reimbursed their customer.

Gardaí called to Ribtchenok’s home and place of work on November 12, 2008. She was arrested and later provided them with Western Union receipts and the contract of employment she had been given.

She explained the situation to the gardaí and said she had enlisted the help of a lawyer friend to examine the contract of employment and genuinely believed the document was legitimate.

This lawyer also contacted the gardaí himself while Ribtchenok was being interviewed and confirmed that he had advised the woman that in his professional opinion the contract was not a false one.

Ribtchenok told the gardaí that the funds had been transferred into her account and she had withdrawn them over the course of three days. She said she then transferred the cash via Western Union less her expenses and 7 per cent commission.

Garda Petree agreed with Mr Le Vert that Ribtchenok had admitted to gardai that she had been reckless about whether the cash had been stolen.

Garda Petree told Judge Hogan that the money had been taken from the victim’s account via internet fraud when NIB experienced a “technical fault” within their e-banking system. He said there was “no way to trace the source” of the initial fraud.

Garda Petree agreed with Ms Gerardine Small BL, defending, that there “was no aspect of a covert operation” in relation to her client. He further agreed that she was co-operative with gardai and was “a vulnerable person”.

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