A judge said a continuous campaign of deception against insurance companies, through fake accidents, would end up being paid for by ‘Seán Citizen’.
Former insurance consultant Tommy Maher, aged 51, of Scarteen, Newmarket, Co Cork, had one year of a three-year jail sentence suspended for his role in organising six fraudulent car crashes at the centre of a garda investigation, code-named Operation Nascar.
The operation had been co-ordinated by the Organised Crime Unit at Anglesea Street Garda Station.
The same modus operandi was used in each case. Eight or nine people met up before an accident, travelled to the scene in two cars, everyone got out except the driver of one car who crashed into an empty car in front.
The passengers then jumped in and calls were made to gardaí and the ambulance service and complaints of soft tissue injuries such as whiplash were reported to the emergency services who arrived at the scene. This was followed up by claims against insurance companies including, Axa, Aviva and Quinn (Liberty).
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin, at Cork Circuit Criminal Court, said Maher was deeply and continuously involved so there was no option other than impose a custodial sentence.
“His plea of guilty has to be taken into account. These cases, if they went on would have been particularly difficult to prove, they would have been long and complex cases. All of that did not have to happen because of his admission of guilt. He is entitled to a significant deduction for that.
“He has expressed considerable remorse. He has put meat on that bone by providing €25,000 from his own resources by way of compensation.
“It is not as if insurance companies want an invitation to attack the innocent. They are well able to use crimes like this to protect themselves and play on the public. But in this case there was an active, continuous campaign to deceive insurance companies and the ultimate victim is Seán Citizen.”
“Had he not pleaded guilty then I think a sentence of five years would certainly be in order. He has been involved in another set of offences, of which the sergeant gave me video evidence of this man bringing people to the scene, collecting people before that.
“It was very clear from that evidence as described that Mr Maher was a principal offender at [those three staged accidents],” the judge said. He pleaded guilty to making false reports of accidents to gardaí and making fraudulent claims.
Maher put his knowledge of the insurance industry into the organisation of the fake car accidents and one time was seen directing a rogue driver to reverse and drive into the car ahead a second time to cause more damage.
Det Sgt Sean Leahy said there were staged accidents at Redbarn Cross in Youghal on April 20, 2011, at Clash West in Leamlara on June 18, 2011 and at Model Farm Road in Cork city on February 17, 2011.
Sgt Noel Madden gave evidence of staged accidents at Monastery Hill, Rochestown, Cork, on December 6, 2011; Carrigane, Mitchelstown, on August 28, 2012, and at Clyda Bridge, Mallow, on September 26, 2012.
As soon as the insurers agreed to settle the cases and pay out various sums rather than having the cases contested in court the passengers were advised to take what was offered and pass it on to the organisers who would give them a percentage of the payment.
“They were recruited prior to the traffic accident and told to go to the scene where the cars would collide and they would hop in after the accident,” Det Sgt Leahy said.
Donal O’Sullivan, defending, said Maher was not saying he was a foot soldier in the crimes, he was admitting to playing a role as an organiser but did so with others who also organised the crimes.
Character evidence on Maher’s behalf came from former curate at Doneraile, Anthony Sheehan.
Fifty arrests were made in the investigation. Robert Smyth, head of fraud at Aviva General Insurance said: “We have a duty to our customers to fight fraud relentlessly and we will continue to collaborate with An Garda Síochána in tackling this problem.
“However the key to reducing this type of fraud is to eliminate the financial incentive; this can be achieved by replacing monetary compensation with medical care for whiplash type injuries.
“These criminals are clearly not injured and have no interest in receiving medical attention. We estimate that fraudulent claims cost our customers at least €50 per private motor insurance policy.”