A man who defrauded six customers out of almost €60,000 by taking payments for minibuses which he never handed over to them has been sentenced to three and half years.
Mark Knight (43) was running a business in which he secured minibuses from the UK for interested clients, imported them back to Ireland and both serviced and registered them before delivering the vehicles to the customer. He advertised his business under two names Versatile Vehicles and Minibus World.
Versatile Vehicles Ltd, was struck off by Companies Office in November 2009 for failure to comply with regulations, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard.
Knight had run a legitimate business and some of the victims of this fraud had approached him on the back of a recommendation from a trusted source.
He either secured a deposit or received full payment for vehicles but never delivered them to the customers using a number of excuses such as the log book had been accidentally destroyed, the transport back to Ireland had been delayed by the snow or that the vehicle needed some work done on it.
Knight ultimately pleaded guilty to the offences following a garda investigation but took a warrant in July 2012 when he failed to show up for his court hearing. He was tracked down in England, where he was working under his own name and brought back to Ireland on a European Arrest Warrant last month.
Knight, previously of Lutrellstown Grove, Castleknock, Dublin pleaded guilty to dishonestly by deception inducing six individuals to pay a total of €58,950 for specific vehicles on dates between September 2009 and July 2011.
He has 18 previous convictions, three of which are from Ireland. One of his convictions relate to obtaining money by deception while another is for making off without payment.
A number of victim impact reports were handed into court outlining the effects the fraud had on his customers. One report stated that a man had paid €10,000 for a minibus to accommodate his family of ten. The money represented their life savings and it was 18 months before they could raise enough money to buy a suitable vehicle.
In another case, a woman had paid €13,100 for a minibus for her company and when Knight failed to give her the bus she had to take out a loan to finance the purchase of another vehicle, This put her business under financial stress and she was concerned it would collapse.
Judge Melanie Greally accepted that Knight had €58,505 in court to compensate his victims after his current employer lent him the cash. He has agreed to pay a further €9,885 within 12 months to compensate the woman who had to take out the loan, allowing for the interest she paid on it.
The judge said Knight had given “false undertakings and told lies concerning problems with the vehicles and delays and ultimately monies were not repaid”. She noted that one person had €1,000 refunded while another, who had handed over €16,600 had received a cheque in the post for €16.60.
Judge Greally accepted that Knight made admissions and assisted gardaí on his arrest and had been living “a law abiding and productive life” after he fled Ireland.
She acknowledged that a testimonial from his employer, who gave him the funds for compensation, stated that Knight played an important role in his company and his business was suffering from his absence.
Judge Greally sentenced Knight to three and half years in prison but suspended the final 12 months on strict conditions including that he leave Ireland within seven days of his ultimate release from prison and not return to the country for 10 years.
Garda Martina Drew told Fiona McGowan BL, prosecuting, that in one case a man had contacted Knight after seeing an ad for a 13-seater Mercedes Sprinter on Donedeal. He needed the vehicle for his family of ten and transferred a deposit of €1,500 for the vehicle.
This man is the only one of the six victims who actually got his vehicle delivered to his home when he handed over the balance of €8,500. The following month he spotted a vehicle with the same registration but different mileage advertised on eBay. He became concerned and emailed Knight giving him until the end of that week to fix the problem.
Gda Drew said Knight offered a part refund and suggested the man could still keep the vehicle but the customer insisted on returning the bus. He left it parked at Heuston Station in Dublin for Knight to pick up after Knight agreed to transfer a full refund into his bank account.
This man never received the refund and he later spotted another advertisement for the same vehicle.
Seoirse Ó Dúnlaing BL, defending, told Judge Greally that his client accepted his “conduct was criminal” but suggested that the court should have regard to the fact that he was using his own name and details in all his transactions with clients.
He said it was an example of a case of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” as Knight was using the funds to either repay other customers he owed money to or cover his own personal expenses. “He was not driving around Dublin in a Ferrari,” counsel submitted.
Mr Ó Dúnlaing said Knight had buried his head in the sand. He handed in a testimonial from Knight's current employer whom he said was fully aware of the “conduct he (Knight) had engaged in”.