The Four Courts, Dublin
A man who carried out a “sophisticated” and “elaborate” social welfare fraud over five-and-a-half years has been sent to jail for 18 months after his original suspended sentence was deemed too lenient.
John Stokes (30), with an address at Old Tower Crescent, in Clondalkin, was charged with 343 counts of theft committed between April 2008 and December 2013. He pleaded guilty at Naas Circuit Criminal Court to a number of sample counts on the basis that the remainder would be taken into account.
Stokes was given a wholly suspended four-and-a-half year sentence by Judge Michael O’Shea on June 30, 2017.
The Director of Public Prosecutions sought a review of Stokes’ sentence on grounds that it was “unduly lenient”. The Court of Appeal agreed and jailed him this afternoon, Friday, July 20, for 18 months.
Giving judgment in the three-judge court, Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy said the fraud involved €55,000 Jobseekers Allowance and €47,000 Rent Allowance.
Mr Justice McCarthy said Stokes had rented a house in Sallins, Co Kildare for the purpose of perpetrating the fraud. He adopted the identity of a person living in the UK, using their birth cert at a time when he (Stokes) was in receipt of disability, to which he was entitled.
The offences undoubtedly involved a degree of sophistication and required a degree of organisation and planing, the judge said. The fraud was uncovered by a “diligent” and “sharp eyed” local post master, the court heard.
At sentencing Stokes brought €4,000 restitution and a further €2,000 has since been “repaid” by withholding child allowance - “if one calls it a payment,” Mr Justice McCarthy said.
He was also paying €28 a week restitution from social welfare payments.
Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Seoirse Ó Dúnlaing BL, submitted that the suspension of Stokes’ sentence in full was a “step too far”.
Mr Ó Dúnlaing said the offence involved a “sophisticated” and “elaborate” fraud carried out over a five-and-a-half year period. He said matters advanced in mitigation, to which the judge paid undue regard, were at odds with the organisation of the fraud, Mr Ó Dúnlaing submitted.
Referring to a number of recent decisions in the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice McCarthy said serious, premeditated fraud will almost always merit an immediate custodial sentence, although the discretion afforded to a sentencing judge was wide.
He said the Court of Appeal could find no exceptional circumstances that would justify the complete suspension of Stokes’ sentence in full.
Mr Justice McCarthy, who sat with President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice John Hedigan, resentenced Stokes to four-and-a-half years imprisonment with all but the final 18 months suspended.
Stokes was immediately lead away to begin serving his 18 months jail term.