Woman, 82, spared jail for €200k social welfare fraud over 28 years

An 82-year-old woman has received a suspended sentence for claiming over €200,000 in social welfare payments using the name of a dead woman.

Mary Cullen began using the name of her partner’s deceased wife in 1987 at the suggestion of her partner. Over the years, she claimed job seeker’s payments, rent and fuel allowances, pre-retirement payments and, most recently, pension payments.

Cullen, of Portland Row, Dublin, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 30 sample counts of falsely claiming social welfare, using false instruments, and possession of false instruments between 1987 and 2015 in Dublin.

The amounts received ranged from Irl£52.80 in 1987 to €242.90 in 2009. The total amount falsely claimed over 28 years was €206,028.18 Cullen’s defence was making a plea in mitigation and citing case law when Judge Martin Nolan interrupted and said: “How can I send an 82-year-old woman to jail? It’s as simple as that. Isn’t that the only point in the case?”

Judge Nolan said it was a reprehensible offence and Cullen should be ashamed of herself but that he could not “in good conscience” jail an 82-year-old.

Cullen had had a hard life and was a hard worker, the judge said, noting that she had worked as an office cleaner until last year.

He said he did not believe the Court of Appeal would overturn a suspended sentence if the Director of Public Prosecutions “got a rush of blood to the head” and decided to appeal it as too lenient.

Judge Nolan imposed a three-year suspended sentence and noted that, if Cullen was 20 years younger, she would probably be facing prison. The Department of Social Protection has reduced Cullen’s pension payments by €35 a week since the theft was discovered.

Garda Enda Connolly said he was asked last year by the Department of Social Protection to investigate suspicions that Cullen was claiming payments under the name Mary Rose Hart.

He conducted surveillance at the GPO where he saw Cullen enter and claim her pension under her own name. The next day, he watched her claim payments in North Strand Post Office as Mary Rose Hart.


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