O’Brien will be sentenced on October 8, following his sentencing hearing at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court yesterday. The case was adjourned so it can be established why O’Brien has not yet compensated any of this victims.
O’Brien convinced long-standing friends from his days in Trinity College Dublin and family business associates that he was linked to property schemes in Paris, Manchester, and Hamburg, and a shipping insurance scheme.
The schemes were bogus. O’Brien used fake letters and invented connections to businessmen and lawyers to get the victims to continue to give him money.
Lawyers for the fraudster said O’Brien is now destitute and is living on social welfare of €188 a week.
Patrick McGrath, defending, said O’Brien, previously described as the “poster boy for the worst excesses of the Celtic Tiger”, “Ireland’s Bernie Madoff” and a “high society con man”, is now shunned and socially ruined.
O’Brien told investors the money would be left sitting in a deposit account in order to demonstrate that he had the financial clout to purchase investment properties and allow him to procure exclusive options on the properties. He told them he would flip these deals on for profit and split the proceeds with the investor.
Detective Sergeant Martin Griffin told the court this was all a lie. The money was used for a myriad of other purposes instead of being held on deposit, he said.
Some of it would be used to pay back other investors who had advanced money to O’Brien, a process he described as “grooming”. He said: “This is absolutely, quintessentially characteristic of a Ponzi scheme”.
O’Brien, aged 52, of Kilmore, Monkstown Grove, Co Dublin, pleaded guilty to 14 sample counts out of a total of 45 theft and deception charges at National Irish Bank and Ulster Bank, Donnybrook, on dates between 2003 and 2008.
O’Brien, whose family home is Carrigrohane Castle, Co Cork, had denied all charges, but changed his plea to guilty on the day his trial was due to start.
Luán Ó Braonáin, prosecuting, told the court the total loss to the five victims is €8.5m. He said so far €2m has been recovered through the release of assets but that none of this has gone to the victims.
Mr McGrath said €2.5m is available immediately for the victims from shares in a computer games company, property in Barbados and property syndicates in Boston and Berlin.
Judge Patricia Ryan said she wanted to know why this has not been released to the victims. She adjourned the matter to October so O’Brien can clarify this.
Det Sgt Griffin said that the fraud followed a pattern of telling investors: “Give me money. I will retain it in my deposit account. It will not go anywhere else other than to show I have access to the money”.
The first victim was Tipperary farmer Louis Dowley who was conned out of a total of €6.95m. O’Brien knew Dowley because his wife had attended Trinity College along with O’Brien in the early 1980s.
In 2004, he told Dowley that if he put money up to show as a deposit for a property investment scheme in Manchester, O’Brien would share the return with him.
He also drew Dowley into an insurance shipping scheme which he said would save on insurance for shipments of linen.
In order to advance this con he faked an email from an Italian shipping merchant who he had met briefly during a New Year’s Eve party in Dubai when they exchanged business cards. He also faked an email from a Monaco-based lawyer.
In July 2006, Mr Dowley lodged €1m into a bank account for this linen shipping venture. Within two days, O’Brien had transferred €19,000 to one of his companies, used €874,134 for stamp duty on a property in Cork City, €219,024 for purchase of another property and €61,000 for the purchase of an Audi Q7 car for his wife.
Det Sgt Griffin said: “Very quickly within two days the million euro is as good as gone”.
The other victims named in the charges are Martin O’Brien, of Naas, Co Kildare, Dubliners Pat Doyle and Evan Newall, and Daniel Maher of Foxrock, Co Dublin.
O’Brien stole €4m from Mr Dowley, of Carrick-on-Suir. He deceived Mr Doyle and Mr O’Brien of €500,000; Mr Newell of a total of about €3m; and Mr Maher of €450,000.