Former Cork solicitors who 'asked rough sleepers for PPS numbers' jailed for bank fraud

The judge said 14 financial institutions, apart from Bank of Ireland, “were asleep at the wheel” when the couple carried out the fraud.
Former Cork solicitors who 'asked rough sleepers for PPS numbers' jailed for bank fraud

Former solicitors Keith Flynn and Lyndsey Clarke, who were jailed today for a targeted fraud campaign against banks and credit unions. File photo: Cork Courts Limited

Two former solicitors who are married to each other were jailed for their elaborate criminal scheme targeting banks and credit unions – effectively to lend money to people who did not exist.

Keith Flynn, 46, was sentenced to four years in prison backdated to October 27, 2020 when he went into custody.

His wife and co-accused, Lyndsey Clarke, 37, was sentenced to two years in prison commencing today. Both are former solicitors.

Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said that to explain the difference in how the parties were treated at sentencing it could be stated that it allowed for the differences in the personal circumstances of the two accused.

Detective Garda Alan McCarthy said the background to the criminal enterprise saw the husband and wife using wigs, disguises, costumes, forged drivers licences and passports in a targeted campaign to defraud banks and credit unions of almost €400,000.

Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said the €100,000 cash which was recovered in the garda investigation should be dispersed on a pro-rata basis between Bank of Ireland, AIB, Ulster Bank and 12 credit unions.

However, he said that should only be done only after a separate €10,000 was first given from the recovered funds to Bank of Ireland whose crime unit uncovered the scam to begin with. The judge said they did this when the other financial institutions “were asleep at the wheel.” 

Alice Fawsett, defence senior counsel, said the adjournment of sentencing over the past four months had been extremely traumatic for Lyndsey Clarke and she had to go on medication. Ms Fawsett asked for as lenient a sentence as possible.

Seamus Roche SC said Keith O’Flynn was also a qualified chef and was cooking in the prison officers’ canteen in prison, was undertaking educational courses and was doing the best he could while in prison.

Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said: “This is a very significant crime given the amount of organisation and the amount of money taken. The organisation involved setting up false IDs, giving the financial institutions the necessary paperwork to open an account and following up by opening accounts, paying money into accounts and taking money out.

“Against the background of deceit – all these cases of deceit usually involving using the position (of clerk or accountant) and the scheme is the breach of trust – that is not the case here.

“Here you have an elaborate, criminally purposed dedicated scheme involving false IDs, using the false IDs to open a multiplicity of bank and credit union accounts. It was very elaborate, drawn out and criminally organised. They are completely culpable.

“If an ordinary citizen – even dealing with your own account – wanted to add or remove names from the account it is a formidable task. But these people were able to surmount all of these through criminal purpose and there was no purpose other than criminal.

“Both are highly educated and were established persons when they thought about the scheme. The level of organisation was considerable.” 

A mitigating feature was the level of cooperation with the garda investigation when they were caught. The judge noted that they described their scheme in detail to the investigating authorities, handed over to the key to the safe where they held documents and over €100,000 in cash from the crimes. He said their pleas of guilty obviated the necessity for a long and complex trial where Clarke originally faced 388 charges and O’Flynn faced 389.

“The crimes unit of Bank of Ireland unearthed the scheme, found out how it worked and reported the matter to the guards,” he said. 

Without that, it is hard to know how long it would have gone on given there was some somnambulance on behalf of other financial institutions.

Were it not for the co-operation of the defendants, their lack of previous convictions and their personal circumstances higher jail sentences would have been imposed. For instance the judge said that without taking any mitigation evidence in O’Flynn’s case a headline sentence of eight years would have been appropriate. Instead he imposed four years on him and two years on Clarke.

Detective Garda Alan McCarthy testified that both defendants set up 60 false identities or aliases by creating false documents. Initially, they purchased forged driving licences from an on-line site called Flawless Fake IDs. They also secured utility bills in false IDs.

“They created eight different PPS numbers. They asked rough sleepers for their PPS numbers,” Det. Garda McCarthy said.

Using all of these false documents they opened 80 bank accounts for people who did not exist. Then they would apply for loans. For a short time they would make repayments but then stop paying. They got loans totalling €469,000, causing a loss to the institutions of over €390,000.

Some of it was done online and by phone, and when they needed to go into banks or to ATMs they wore wigs and disguises.

They caused losses as follows: 

  • €49,000 for Bank of Ireland
  • €154,000 for AIB
  • €31,000 for Ulster Bank 
  • and €156,000 for various credit unions. 

False accounts were also set up by the couple with PTSB, KBC and An Post but those institutions did not give them loans. Most of the frauds were carried out in Cork and Dublin cities.

They both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud.

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