A businessman who defrauded the Revenue Commissioners of €160,000 in relation to VAT payments has been jailed for two years.
John Downes (58) made fraudulent claims for VAT refunds using fake invoices and also charged some customers VAT which he did not pass on to Revenue.
Downes, of Belville Court, Johnstown Road, Cabinteely, Dublin pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to claiming repayment of VAT which his company, Premier Print and Label Ltd , was not entitled to and producing incorrect invoices on dates between 2007 and 2011.
Judge Martin Nolan said defrauding the people of Ireland of €160,000 was a serious state of affairs.
Judge Nolan noted the interest applied by Revenue totaled a further €160,000 which he said was a “very generous rate of interest”, and outlined he was sentencing Downes on the basis of the actual amount defrauded before interest.
He noted in mitigation Downes' guilty plea, co-operation with the investigation, his work history and his contributions to his community. He said Downes was capable of reform and unlikely to re-offend.
Judge Nolan said the offences had occurred over a prolonged period, were thought out and the cost to the State had been considerable. He said it was unfortunate for everyone but Downes must go to prison for his behavior.
He imposed a two-year sentence and said he was making no order in relation to the money Downes had brought to court. He said that was a matter for Downes and the Revenue.
Francis Boyne, Revenue officer, told Grainne O'Neill BL, prosecuting, that the investigation was launched following an audit in 2011. He said the mechanism of the offending took two forms.
He said the first mechanism involved Downes producing a sales invoice for a genuine customer of his company and charging them VAT. He would then make a return on the basis that no VAT had been charged.
Mr Boyne said the second mechanism of offending involved Downes creating false invoices and reclaiming VAT. The total loss to Revenue from the offending was €163,658.
Downes has previous convictions relating to subsequent thefts from his then employer, Marks and Spencers. He received a two year sentence with the final 18 months suspended in 2018 and repaid his employer in full.
Mr Boyne agreed with James Dwyer SC, defending, that Downes co-operated with the investigation, showed Revenue officials documentation and did not provide any difficulties during searches of his home and business premises.
He also agreed the guilty pleas were useful as there could have been a “long and complicated” trial.
Mr Dwyer said Downes business had run into difficulties during the economic crash and the offences were clustered around that time, when he was also suffering mental health issues.
He said his client had been in a “dark place” as he was also going through the breakdown of his marriage and had cheated Revenue of the money to keep his business going. The business was subsequently dissolved in 2015.
Downes wrote a letter to the court apologising for the offences and saying he had been at a low point in his life, suffering with severe depression. He said he should have sought help but “everything go on top of me.” He said he accepted the consequences of his actions.
Mr Dwyer said Downes had lodged €50,000 with his solicitor and also offered his €50,000 pension. He said his client had been volunteering since his release from custody and had plans to work.
Counsel submitted that Downes had previously gone into custody as a result of his behaviour and had come out of a “dark tunnel.” He said Downes had started repaying the money and asked that instead of incarcerating him that the court allow the State the opportunity to recoups some of the money.
He asked that the case be adjourned to allow Downes repay the money in a structured way.