Social worker jailed for a year over €96k financial scam

A social worker was jailed yesterday for a €96,000 scam in which she put names on the HSE list of children at risk who should never have been on it.

Jennifer O'Driscoll at Cork Circuit Criminal Court yesterday. Picture: Cork Courts Limited

Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said that even though the accused would repay all of the money taken or more — between money paid and proposals to pay — a jail term still had to be imposed.

Jennifer O’Driscoll of St John’s Terrace, World’s End, Kinsale, Co Cork, was sentenced to three years, with the last two years suspended.

Det Sgt Clodagh O’Sullivan, who investigated the case, said O’Driscoll, aged 45, no longer worked as a HSE social worker.

O’Driscoll used her detailed knowledge of the payment system for foster families and her position of trust within that area to steal more than €97,000 between May 2008 and January 2013.

Judge O Donnnabháin said that the starting point in dealing with any fraud case was that the fraud was deliberate and planned, but this was marked by a “distinct and organised methodology” by O’Driscoll to create “a web of deceit with herself at the centre”.

It was bad enough that she had stolen money that was destined for people who were entitled to payments to foster children, but what made it even worse was that she used the names of actual children who were “not even within the compass of the HSE” to perpetrate the fraud, he said.

He accepted it would have been a difficult and prolonged case for the State to prove, had it gone to trial, and there was no certainty as to the outcome, so in that sense O’Driscoll’s plea of guilty was of significant benefit.

He also accepted that O’Driscoll had lost her job as a social worker and would not work in the profession again and that she had repaid a significant sum and could conceivably end up paying back more than she stole when all her pension entitlements were forfeited.

He believed the appropriate headline sentence was three years but suspended the final two, given O’Driscoll had no previous convictions and had previously been of good character.

Det Sgt O’Sullivan said: “Nine foster carers and 23 children were embroiled in this investigation. Named children were placed on the list of children at risk even though they were never in care at all.”

This deception went on for more than five years before O’Driscoll was eventually caught. None of the foster families ever suspected her.

A disciplinary issue arose in relation to the social worker and in the course of this issue there was an examination of her work and the crime was discovered.

O’Driscoll pleaded guilty to 38 charges of theft and 42 of deception. The charges refer to thefts of various sums of cash at North Lee social work department, Blackpool, Cork, on dates from May 29, 2008 to January 1, 2013.

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