Ex-minister avoids jail over mobile phone fraud

A seven-month suspended prison sentence and fines of €3,500 were imposed yesterday on former Minister of State Ned O’Keeffe for what the sentencing judge described as breaches of trust by a TD submitting false invoices to claim over €3,700 in mobile phone expenses.

Ex-minister avoids jail over mobile phone fraud

O’Keeffe, 72, of Ballylough, Mitchelstown, Co Cork, was arrested by Detective Sergeant Patrick Lenihan of the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation at Togher Garda station in Cork at 9.40am and conveyed to Cork District Court to face five charges contrary to Section 26 of the Theft and Fraud Offences Act. He replied, ‘No comment’ when charged.

Inspector Bill Duane said the Director of Public Prosecutions had indicated the case could be dealt with at Cork District Court on a plea of guilty only; if contested the case would go before judge and jury.

Frank Buttimer, solicitor, said the accused was pleading guilty to all five counts. Det. Sgt. Linehan described the offences as effectively consisting of O’Keeffe submitting false or fictitious invoices at Leinster House to support claims for mobile phone expenses on various dates between July 11, 2002, and September 30, 2008, while a serving TD for Cork East.

The total claimed by the former TD, supported by false or fictitious invoices, amounted to €3,737.50. Judge Malone said he would also accept jurisdiction to deal with the case at Cork District Court.

The invoices purported to be from Cavanagh Electrical, MacCurtain St, Fermoy, Co Cork, P O’Connors & Son Ltd., Dungarvan, Co Waterford, and three from TR Motor Services, Harold’s Cross, Dublin.

After listening to submissions from Frank Buttimer, Judge Malone said: “As a public representative, he was in a position of trust. These are breaches of the trust bestowed upon him. While the amount of money is not large, the offences are serious from that point of view.”

The accused paid the full €3,737.50 in compensation yesterday. The judge then fined him €750, €750, €1,000 and €1,000 in respect of the first four charges, with three months to pay the fines or serve 45 days in prison. On the final charge, he imposed a seven-month prison sentence, the warrant not to issue provided he keeps the peace for the next two years.

Mr Buttimer said: “He co-operated fully with the investigation. He ensured that by his co-operation the amount of investigative work was absolutely minimised. It was always going to be Mr O’Keeffe’s intention to enter a plea of guilty.

“What he is guilty of is producing paperwork to pursue claims for expenses he might otherwise legitimately have been entitled to make, but quite simply the paperwork he produced might not match with what he might otherwise be entitled to claim. It was a fairly routine claim in many ways.”

Judge Malone was told that TDs were entitled to claim expenses for their mobile phone usage. Mr Buttimer said there was a net loss to the exchequer but not for the full amount referred to in the charges but that the defendant was not taking issue with that and was paying the full €3,737.50 to the exchequer yesterday.

Compared to carefully thought-out incidents of fraud, Mr Buttimer argued this was at the other end of the scale and the very lowest level of criminality. Nevertheless, the solicitor said the former TD was saying, in effect, “I am wrong, I must own up. That is the standard he would hold other people to and that is the standard he would expect for himself. Of course, he acknowledges that where his paperwork does not stack up to his claim, he must recompense the exchequer.

“He has served his constituents and served the people by rising to the rank of Junior Minister. He has never been in trouble in his life. He has been greatly burdened. His distinguished record is now blemished. He has been under a lot of stress and strain.

“I think he is thankful the day arrives that he can put up his plea and put it behind him. His health has been affected. His family wellbeing is affected. His son is in court to support him.”

Each charge has much the same wording that on the particular date at Leinster House, Kildare Street, Dublin 2, he did use an instrument — the particular invoice from a named company — which he knew or believed to be a false instrument with the intention of inducing another person to accept it as genuine and by reason of so accepting it, to do some act or make some omission or to perform some service to the prejudice of the person or any other person.

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