Conman who targeted elderly victims with 'sob stories' jailed

Conman who targeted elderly victims with 'sob stories' jailed

Gerry O'Brien, 41, convinced his elderly victims that he was due to receive a substantial payout from an insurance claim before he stole €107,286 and €27,254 from them over a number of months.

A man who conned hundreds of thousands of euro out of two elderly women — including the life-savings of one — by telling them a series of “sob stories” has been jailed for five years.

Gerry O'Brien, 41, convinced his victims that he was due to receive a substantial payout from an insurance claim before he stole €107,286 and €27,254 from them over a number of months.

His wife, Joanne O'Brien, 39, stole a total of €900 from one of the women on two occasions. She was given a suspended nine-month sentence.

Gerry O'Brien told the women various stories to convince them to hand over money in the form of cheques and cash, including that he needed a deposit for a house, needed medical care, needed to drill holes in his walls for an oxygen machine and had been evicted.

He convinced his victims that he would pay them back with the fictitious payout.

Fake solicitor

At one point, O'Brien paid “a young fella” to pose as a solicitor and phone the women to confirm this tale, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard previously.

Gerry O'Brien, of Belmont Close, Ballyguile, Co Wicklow pleaded guilty to one count of stealing €107,286 in cash and cheques by deception from a 77-year-old Dublin woman between July 2017 and November 2018.

He also pleaded guilty to one count of stealing €27,254 in cash and cheques by deception from a 73-year-old Dublin woman between August and November 2018.

Joanne O'Brien, pleaded guilty to two counts of theft from the first complainant on December 23, 2017 and July 12, 2018.

Sentencing the pair today, Judge Pauline Codd said Gerry O'Brien had left the woman financially insecure in their twilight years.

'Despicable and mean'

“This is a particularly despicable and mean offence against two pensioners, which involved significant preying upon two elderly ladies,” the judge said.

She noted Gerry O'Brien had engaged in the “psychological manipulation” of his victims and used other people to help him in his deception.

She noted he took a substantial amount of money from his victims and “frittered it away” on his own addictions. “Their trust and security is gone,” she said, as she handed down a five-year jail term.

In relation to Joanne O'Brien, Judge Codd accepted it was a very different case and that, while Joanne O'Brien aided her husband's lies, she stole on two occasions only and spent the money on rent and her children.

She handed down a nine-month sentence and suspended it on a number of conditions.

Detective Garda Paul Kane previously told the court that Gerry O'Brien first called to the 77-year-old woman's door in July 2017 and told her a “sob story” about being put out of his house.

He told her he was a Traveller from Wicklow with a number of children. The woman gave him €100 in cash and he returned a few days later looking for more money.

Over the following 16 months, she regularly gave him cash and cheques for a range of fictitious reasons. She also gave Joanne O'Brien money on two occasions when she called to the house.

In relation to the second woman, the court heard Gerry O'Brien called to her house and told her he was the son of a Traveller woman who she used to help 25 years ago. She was also persuaded to give him money on a number of occasions.

Ransom money

On one occasion, the fake solicitor who rang both women about the insurance claim also told one of them that O'Brien had been kidnapped up the mountains and needed ransom money. The woman replied that she had already given O'Brien all her money.

The offences in relation to the first complainant came to light in November 2018 when a bank worker became suspicious about the activity on her account and gardaí were contacted.

Coincidentally around the same time, the second complainant confided in her son about O'Brien and he also contacted gardaí.

In a victim impact statement read out in court, the first complainant's daughter said her mother was a hard-working and kind woman, who had always given generously to charity and taught her children to do the same.

She said the O'Briens exploited her mother's kindness with their “sob stories” and asked her for more and more money. She was subjected to a “barrage of intimidating and begging phone calls” and had “no peace in her own house”.

At one point, she said her mother went without heating oil in winter as she was short of money as a result of the offence. Her children only discovered the thefts when the gardaí became involved.

“Gerry and Joanne conned mum out of most of her life savings,” her daughter said.

In a victim impact statement read out by the prosecution counsel, the second complainant said she had been left “distraught” by the thefts. She said she had only one question for Gerry O'Brien: “Have you no conscience?” 

Previous convictions

 The court heard Gerry O'Brien, who is in custody, has 68 previous convictions, including theft, fraud and assault.

Joanne O'Brien has 28 previous convictions, almost entirely for road traffic offences. The couple have four children.

Seoirse O Dunlaing BL, defending Gerry O'Brien, said his client was extremely remorseful for his actions. A psychological report and a letter of remorse were handed into court.

Judge Pauline Codd said the letter contained “no remorse to the two ladies whose kindness he exploited”. “This letter is just about his woes,” she said.

Marc Murphy BL, defending Joanne O'Brien, said his client had repaid the €900 she stole.

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