A Westmeath man has pleaded guilty to using a garda’s PPS number to fraudulently obtain Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payments totalling €1,050.
Daniel Lacatus, aged 19, appeared before Mullingar District Court yesterday after having three payments of the €350 weekly unemployment support lodged to his account in the Bank of Ireland in Drogheda.
Lacatus, of Abbeylands, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, pleaded guilty to three offences under section 18 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001 of possession of stolen property on April 21, April 28, and May 5.
Sergeant Kevin O’Brien told the court that Lacatus had obtained the money by making an online application to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection using the PPS number of a serving garda.
The court heard that Lacatus, who had no previous convictions, made no reply when arrested and charged.
Sgt O’Brien said the defendant had co-operated fully with gardaí, and he believed Lacatus had been “used himself” in relation to the offences.
Solicitor for Lacatus, Dermot Monahan, said his client had brought the full amount of €1,050 to court to repay the stolen money after borrowing it from friends and family.
The court heard that Lacatus, an Irish citizen of Romanian background, worked as a car-wash attendant, but was currently unemployed.
Mr Monahan said he was not seeking to minimise Lacatus’ role in the offences, but stressed that he had played “a very, very minor” part in what had happened.
Judge Deirdre Gearty said that Lacatus was guilty of “a despicable crime” given the Government had put in place a system to provide people with money to tide them over during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It was a particularly opportunistic crime in the current climate,” she added.
The judge said she was “bemused” at how Lacatus had accessed the PPS number of a garda to obtain the payments fraudulently.
“I want to ask the question, but I’m not sure I want to know the answer,” she remarked.
Judge Gearty adjourned sentencing in the case to October 1 to allow for a probation report to assess Lacatus’ suitability to carry out community service in lieu of a prison term.