A 72-year-old West Cork pharmacist was remanded in custody for a month yesterday as her sentencing for what the judge described as egregious criminality was adjourned.
Christine Crowley, aged 72, from Main St, Drimoleague, faced sentencing after pleading guilty to 20 sample counts from a 174-count indictment of fraud involving sums totalling more than €70,000 over several years.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said: “I have never come across a case where the deceit was so well organised. There is a level of egregious criminal behaviour.
“The behaviour is so egregious and I don’t use the word often. There was such commitment to criminality I cannot find my way at the moment — on any view of this — there has to be a prison sentence. There is no other answer for the level of criminality.
“Without making any guarantee I will remand her in custody until April 4. Don’t get me wrong. Do not read anything into that, do not read anything between the lines. As I say I cannot see my way to impose a fully suspended prison sentence.”
Garda Elizabeth O’Sullivan said, but for the pleas of guilty, there would have been a trial of up to five weeks with 174 witnesses and over 1,500 documentary exhibits. The judge said it would have been complicated almost beyond belief had it gone to trial.
In essence, the fraud involved the accused making claims against the HSE for fictitious drugs between 2004 and 2009.
Garda O’Sullivan said: “The medications were never prescribed by doctors, never dispensed [by the pharmacist] and never received by the patient.”
The investigation commencing in May 2009 was so extensive that an incident room had to be set up at Bandon Garda Station. Records of 422 patients with the two pharmacies owned and run by Christine Crowley had fake entries. A total of 83 patients made statements to gardaí.
In an effort to quantify the loss, the gardaí pieced together a documentary snapshot of the fraud. In a particular six-month period, the loss to the HSE was €70,000.
James O’Mahony SC said €70,000 had been repaid and anything else was a matter of civil litigation.
Mr O’Mahony said the defendant had continued to dispense medication to patients for more than 12 months, paid for not by the HSE but out of her own pension and her husband’s pension.
“She has accepted she was wrong. This has devastated her life. It has had an adverse effect on her wellbeing.
“She is full of remorse. She is no longer practising as a chemist.
“There are no yachts, no investments or tracts of land. [By pleading guilty] she is entitled to credit for saving the state huge amounts of money. The losses have been recouped.
“The defendant is otherwise a very decent lady. She received hundreds of cards from patients she dealt with over the years wishing her well.
“Mrs Crowley is a lovely lady. What she has done was entirely wrong. She has made a total mess of things.”
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