A man who claimed over €167,000 in fraudulent social welfare payments has avoided a jail term to allow him to continue to assist in caring for his disabled sister.
Gerard Lawlor (67) of Balrothery, Tallaght, Dublin pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 11 sample counts of stealing social welfare payments from the Department of Social Protection between 2005 and 2015.
Garda Nigel Daly told prosecution barrister, Lorcan Staines BL, that the fraud was uncovered when the Revenue Commissioners carried out an audit on Lawlor's former wife, who was the director of a dieting company.
While auditing the company, Revenue discovered that Lawlor had been claiming fraudulent payments from the Department of Social Protection since 2005. These included pre-retirement payments for himself and adult dependent allowances in respect of his estranged wife, the court heard.
The total amount defrauded by Lawlor came to €167,873, Mr Staines said.
Judge Karen O'Connor had adjourned the sentence last April having heard evidence, to get a probation report on Lawlor's family situation and his involvement in the care of his sister. But she said Lawlor was “in very clear risk of a custodial sentence”.
She noted today that a probation officer had since visited the family home and concluded that Lawlor's sister, Patricia Lawlor, would not be able to care for their severely disabled sister without her brother's assistance.
The judge said it was with “a degree of reluctance” that she would therefore impose a suspended sentence because she said she felt imprisonment of Lawlor would be “detrimental to the life of his sisters”.
Judge O'Connor sentenced Lawlor to three years in prison which she suspended in full on strict conditions.
At the sentencing hearing last April, the court heard that while claiming these means-tested benefits, Lawlor failed to declare that he was self-employed and that he had bought and sold a number of properties. He also worked in a garage with his father and brother.
When interviewed by gardaí he made immediate admissions. He has no previous convictions.
Lawlor, a father of three adult children, is now in receipt of a State pension of €183 a week. This has been reduced by €28 a week by the department in order to pay back the money he owes the state.
He had €11,000 in court for the department as a token of his remorse.
Defence counsel, Rory Staines BL, said Lawlor now has no assets. He separated from his wife in 2012 and spent one year living in the back of his car. He sold his investment properties at a loss and now lives rent-free in a home belonging to his sister.
Defence counsel conceded this was a “significant social welfare fraud” that Lawlor was unable to currently pay back.
“Whatever money there was is now dissipated,” he said. Mr Staines said Lawlor was a victim of the economic downturn, although this was not accepted by gardaí.
He said there was no dispute that Lawlor was extremely remorseful. He asked that a non-custodial sentence be considered.
Lawlor's sister, Patricia Lawlor, took the stand and described how her brother helped her in the care of their disabled sister. Ms Lawlor cried as she said her sister would probably have to go into care if Lawlor was imprisoned.