Dodgy wigs and spelling mistakes: How the Cork grifters were caught out

Ultimately, it was the finer details that tripped the fraudsters up, but not before their scheme had netted huge sums using multiple false identities and numerous accounts, writes Noel Baker
Dodgy wigs and spelling mistakes: How the Cork grifters were caught out

Former solicitors Keith Flynn and Lyndsey Clarke, who practised as Keith Flynn & Company, are now in Cork and Limerick prisons, respectively, following the handing down of sentences at Cork Circuit Court last Monday. Picture: Cork Courts Limited

Ultimately, it was the finer details that tripped the fraudsters up, but not before their scheme had netted huge sums using multiple false identities and numerous accounts, writes Noel Baker

Keith Flynn is many things — a qualified chef, ex-solicitor, convicted fraudster — but it turns out that despite his penchant for disguise, he might fall short as a voice artist.

How do we know? 

Detective Garda Alan McCarthy, who spearheaded the investigation into Flynn and his partner, Lyndsey Clarke, listened back to one of the online banking phonecalls in which Flynn is pretending to be someone else, and could clearly hear the join.

"Definitely on one of the phonecalls to Bank of Ireland," he says, "Keith rang in with an accent — but halfway through his own accent came through."

Thing is, dodgy accents and all, for a time he got away with it. 

"One of the pictures I have is of a very unique male, wearing a disguise, taking money out of an ATM in Blackpool," 

Detective Garda McCarthy says.

The date was August 22, 2017. It was Flynn.

Flynn, 46, and his now-wife, 37-year-old Clarke, are now in Cork and Limerick prisons, respectively, following the handing down of sentences at Cork Circuit Court last Monday. 

Yet, as that case comes to an end, some questions still remain.

Det Garda McCarthy, originally from East Cork, is happy to provide a few answers and is quick to share any praise with his colleagues — one detective sergeant and five detective gardaí in the Economic Crime Investigation Unit in Cork. 

By his own admission, he is an even-tempered man, well able to detach himself from the people he is investigating and certainly not someone given to hyperbole. 

So when he says of the case, "two people from good backgrounds, qualified solicitors — it's just amazing", it must be amazing.

Bogus accounts

For Det Garda McCarthy, who has worked in the force for 20 years having started in Dublin before coming to Cork in 2006, last Monday's sentencing was the culmination of more than three years of work and waiting. 

He was first alerted to possible irregularities across six different Bank of Ireland accounts in autumn 2017. Attached to the fraud unit in Anglesea St in Cork since 2013, he was well acquainted with lengthy cases and voluminous files, but this one was on a different level.

Det Garda McCarthy can now reveal the dates of when the first bogus bank account was opened by the couple. It coincided almost to the day with unrelated offences which later resulted in the Law Society striking them off the roll of solicitors.

The first bogus account, with Ulster Bank in Dublin, was opened on November 15, 2016, by Clarke, using a fake identity. 

According to the outcome of a disciplinary tribunal held in July 2018, while the couple had failed to keep proper books of accounts across 2015 and into 2016, more substantive breaches followed in October and November 2016.  

When contacted by the Irish Examiner last week, the Law Society gave a comprehensive response regarding their responsibilities and how they discharge them, but said it could not discuss individual cases. 

However, as the Flynn and Clarke case was being discussed on last Tuesday's Liveline on RTÉ radio, the Law Society contacted the show to say that it had passed on concerns to gardaí in April 2018, and later confirmed the same information with this newspaper. 

That would have been after the couple had been suspended, but before the disciplinary hearing that summer, and well in advance of Clarke and Flynn being struck off at the end of 2018.

Det Garda McCarthy has confirmed that he was not aware of any previous Garda involvement with the couple and "there was definitely no linkage on the Garda pulse system to indicate it".

This week, the Garda Press Office offered some clarity: "An Garda Síochána attached to the Bridewell, Dublin, carried out an assessment on certain matters coming to their attention in 2018, as a result of that assessment no further action was taken."

The Law Society said that as the statutory regulator of solicitors, it does not discuss the nature of or provide detail on matters relating to individual regulatory cases, including specific reports made to An Garda Síochána. 

It said it was fully committed to the upholding of the highest standards within the profession and also pointed out that since October 2019, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority deals with complaints against solicitors.

Prior to that, the Law Society investigated complaints and, if warranted, would then apply to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, which is independent of the Law Society and the members of which are appointed by the President of the High Court, for a full sworn disciplinary inquiry — the type of inquiry that led to the pair being struck off.

Pandora's box

But back to the main case. 

Even as Alan Boland, working in Bank of Ireland's fraud division, spotted the strange pattern across six new accounts, the bank had no idea as to the extent of what would unfold. 

While Section 19 reports go to sergeants, Det Garda McCarthy had been speaking with Mr Boland about a number of irregularities that had been spotted and he mentioned that one of them had gone to Cork. That turned out to be the pandora's box belonging to Clarke and Flynn.

Much was made in earlier court hearings about the website Flawless Fake IDs, which allows for the creation of fake driving licences. 

But the couple also had sophisticated scanners that allowed them to create other documents, alongside items downloaded from the internet. It turns out they could have simply scanned a real Virgin Media bill, blocked out the name and address, and filled in their own details after. But instead, they downloaded one — and it had the fatal spelling error printed on it.

"It wasn't where they populated it," Det Garda McCarthy said.

"It was in the downloaded document. The mistake was in it, they didn't notice the mistake.

"That shows it wasn't their mistake."

Det Garda McCarthy earlier this week revealed that the spelling mistake which initially alerted Mr Boland in BOI was one that the couple failed to spot in a downloaded template for a Virgin Media bill. The Irish Examiner now understands that the VM bills had the line “MEET THE TEAM” on the very last line at the bottom of the page - but on the bills linked to the accounts, it read “MEET THE TEAK”.

Small details, fine margins, and enough to spin the false identities created by Flynn and Clarke out of their control, but not before they had scored huge sums using the various false identities and the associated 80 bank and credit union accounts.

That first Ulster Bank account opened in November 2016 was quickly used to secure a €15,000 loan, of which €5,000 was swiftly withdrawn.

The second account, also opened by Clarke in Dublin, was with a branch of AIB, opened on December 7, 2016. The next account, again opened in Dublin by Clarke, and with a different branch of Ulster Bank, went live on December 16, 2016, and a loan was secured on the account the following January.

The almost comedic deployment of wigs and disguises by the couple has certainly caught people's attention, but it turned out that, at least in some cases, it didn't make them invisible but instead made them stand out all the more.

Det Garda McCarthy explained that even though some credit unions were incredulous at the notion that they had been duped, one person said she could remember the day the bogus account had been opened, because she recalled the woman she now knows was Clarke quite clearly wearing a wig. 

It also turned out that at least one official was tempted to ask that the wig be removed, but refrained from doing so out of causing embarrassment — something which could conceivably had led to a complaint.

Two aspects of the couple's behaviour, above and beyond the criminal enterprise, have sparked public scorn. One was their apparently cheery demeanour last October as they faced up to the circuit court for the first time. 

"I saw that footage in October and it definitely resonated with me that the way they represented themselves did not do them any favours and I also thought if Judge [Seán] Ó Donnabháin saw that footage that it would be stuck in his mind too," Det Garda McCarthy said. 

PPS numbers

The other unsavoury element was the abuse of PPS numbers belonging to rough sleepers and people known to homeless services, 'bought' for a mere €100 each.

Det Garda McCarthy believes it was a "straight transaction", with the couple approaching people on the street, pitching a story and getting the PPS number from a social welfare card. 

Most of the victims were based in Dublin and one can only hope that their lives have recovered to the extent where past abuse of their PPS numbers isn't now causing them further difficulties.

On Friday's Liveline, a man contacted the show to say he feared he may have been targetted. 

"I was homeless and sleeping rough at Cork City bus station. At some stage during the years 2016 to 2018, I was approached by a slim, blonde woman. It was in the very early hours of the morning. She asked me about my circumstances and offered me a sleeping bag. I thought she was a county councillor, out as a Good Samaritan, or working for the council housing department.

"She said to me: 'You wouldn't happen to have your PPS number on you, would you?' I said I did. I handed her either my medical card or my public services card and she took down the details on it. She then gave me a phone number and told me to ring it if I needed help in the future.

"I phoned the number on multiple occasions and it never connected. That's what spooked me at the time.

Lyndsey Clarke with former Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Facebook picture

Lyndsey Clarke with former Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Facebook picture

"This week, I was looking at the picture of her and Enda Kenny together [when Clarke was on the local election campaign trail in 2014], that picture looks like the woman who tried to help me, but to be honest, I couldn't say for sure."

In a reponse to questions from Liveline, gardaí said nine PPS numbers were used, and that gardaí seconded to the Office of Social Protection had contacted all these nine persons.

The department said it is "satisfied that this case has not resulted in any impact on the PPS Numbers of the people concerned in respect of their entitlement or access to public services, including social welfare services. The Department is not aware of any other cases in which a vulnerable person’s PPS Number may have been used in the manner described in the reports of this particular case".

While gardaí were told by the couple that the criminal enterprise was purely for financial gain, Det Garda McCarthy suggests that when they began the fraud when opening the first bank accounts, the legal practice was shuttered and both Clarke and Flynn had been suspended from practising. 

"They could see that their income was probably going or gone by then."

The trail

Their hopes of evading justice also disappeared the second gardaí entered Flynn's apartment in summer 2018.

"The start of any investigation is gathering the evidence and there is generally a trail — a paper trail or an electronic trail — and in this case it was substantially proved because of the search warrant at Altus Apartments. All digital evidence was seized by guards and we were able to establish all aspects of the case."

At the first interview with gardaí after more than €92,000 in cash and sundry false IDs and documents had been seized, the couple made no comment. 

However, it was clear that, given the scope of the evidence gathered by gardaí, the couple had little option but to cooperate.

The sheer volume of the fraud meant there was a lengthy period when a file was being prepared for the DPP and Clarke and Flynn had not been charged. 

Det Garda McCarthy said he was in regular contact with them, particularly as he had to provide regular updates as to the freezing of various accounts. There was nothing to stop them leaving the jurisdiction, and they did, for a short holiday.

"When going on a short trip overseas, as soon as they came back, they made contact with me to say they had returned."

Clarke and Flynn are now getting used to life in prison, although Flynn's sentence was backdated to last October, when he first entered custody. 

Clarke is said to be very subdued in Limerick Prison, while in Cork Prison, it is understood Flynn quickly got down to work, mixing and working with the staff chefs in the kitchen. A qualified chef who was working in Killarney in recent years, iti s understood his new role means he doesn't mix so much with the other prisoners. 

The couple are able to communicate. 

Former solicitor Lyndsey Clarke is said to be very subdued in Limerick Prison. Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney/Cork Courts Limited

Former solicitor Lyndsey Clarke is said to be very subdued in Limerick Prison. Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney/Cork Courts Limited

Prisoners on basic levels of privilege can get three calls per week, with this rising two two calls per day on some other levels. The Irish Prison Service monitors these, and can facilitate calls between prisoners on the same level where requested.

Very much a couple, the crimes very much a joint endeavour, there was little to suggest that one had led and the other had followed. 

Det Garda McCarthy points out that Clarke opened more accounts than Flynn did, and so applied for more of the loans. As for Flynn, he is briefly stuck for words: "He is definitely ... [a pause].. how would I say it... I would have said he was like a Walter Mitty character. That is how I explained him at one stage."

It's such an unusual case he finds it hard to imagine that someone else is out there right now committing similar fraud on a similar scale. He said his approach to the job was "very black and white", all focus on the task in hand. He believes they would have found him fair to deal with, but he has no residual sympathy for them. And, he said, there were no tears from the pair.

"They never showed any remorse to me," he says. "I think they were sort of black and white as well. Emotions never really came into it."

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