Breifne O’Brien stole millions, and it was family friends and college buddies not anonymous investors who were deceived by his Ponzi scheme, writes Aoife Nic Ardghail
— — — — — — — — — — — Detective Sergeant Martin Griffin said the first victim was Louis Dowley who knew O’Brien because his wife had attended Trinity College with the fraudster in the early 1980s.
In 2003, he told Mr Dowley about a property deal in Manchester for which he could generate a profit. He convinced the farmer that if he advanced him the money it would be used just to prove they had the money to place a deposit on the deal.
In 2004, O’Brien approached Mr Dowley again with what he said was an alternative way of shipping linen. He said that they could make money by keeping sufficient funds on deposit to indemnify any losses to the shipping and this would mean the firms could forego paying insurance.
He forged an email from a real Italian shipping merchant to lend credibility to the plan. It emerged that this man had shared a table with O’Brien at a New Year’s Eve get together in Dubai but they had never done business together.
In July 2008, O’Brien forwarded Mr Dowley an email purporting to be from businessman James Hill. The email claimed if they didn’t stick with the linen shipping scheme, Russian businessmen would move in and they would lose out on lucrative business.
Throughout this period, O’Brien made some returns on Mr Dowley’s loans using money invested by other people.
Det Sgt Griffin said O’Brien used the false correspondences and investment returns to groom his victims and build up their trust in a business venture.
Mr Dowley advanced €1m in 2006 which was dispersed among O’Brien’s various accounts. He used it to purchase and pay stamp duty on a Cork property and to pay €61,000 for an Audi Q7 car for his wife.
Later that year, he provided Mr Dowley with a comforter of a letter outlined the victim’s investments and that all profits from the investments would be split 50-50.
The letter included two cheques, one for €1.2m and another for €850,000 and stated that these would be honoured if Mr Dowley choose to present them. Det Sgt Griffin said this was a lie and that the funds were not there to honour the cheques.
Det Sgt Griffin said O’Brien name dropped Fergal Feeney, formerly of Anglo Irish Bank, in a few emails to Mr Dowley about a Hamburg property acquisition.
This was to get Mr Dowley to advance more money. Mr Feeney told gardaí he had no involvement and did not go with O’Brien to Hamburg to view the property as the email suggested.
O’Brien gave Mr Dowley a false statement purporting to be from Anglo Irish Bank to say he had in excess of €4m in a joint account between him and his father. Anglo confirmed to investigators O’Brien had no such account.
O’Brien used some of Mr Dowley’s advancements to pay third parties who were expecting returns on their investments, despite sending him written letters confirming the money was held on deposit.
On October 14, 2008, O’Brien got €450,000 from Mr Dowley claiming he had first refusal on a high end property in Place Vendome, Paris. Det Sgt Griffin said O’Brien had simply been given brochures to the property by the agent and had not taken business any further.
Det Sgt Griffin said the total thefts from Mr Dowley were €6.9m, because each advance was made on a false basis. Mr Dowley had some of this money returned but is still at a €3m loss.
— — — — — — — — — — — Pat Doyle was put in touch with O’Brien through Peter O’Reilly. Mr O’Reilly was O’Brien’s old college friend and business associate and thought Mr Doyle might be interested in the Paris property acquisition which he did not know was bogus.
Mr O’Reilly wrote a reference letter on behalf of O’Brien to say he was worth over €20m. He described O’Brien as “trustworthy” and guaranteed a €500,000 loan against his own business, The Finance Company.
On September 5, 2008, Mr Doyle advanced the money on condition it would remain in O’Brien’s account as a deposit.
Investigators discovered that a few days later the money started being transferred to other accounts held by O’Brien and some of it used to build a kitchen extension on his home.
Some of that money was also used to pay third parties as a return on their previous investments with O’Brien.
O’Brien wrote a cheque for €500,000 to return Mr Doyle’s loan on November 28, 2008. When this bounced, O’Brien told Mr O’Reilly there was a slight delay as his Blackrock cab company had been burgled and the cheque books stolen.
A staff member confirmed to investigators that this had not happened. A further cheque made out to Mr Doyle also bounced.
— — — — — — — — — — O’Brien approached Evan Newall about the bogus Hamburg property deal with City Investments.
Mr Newall transferred €1.2m after O’Brien made the same representations as he did to Mr Dowley.
He presented a false letter from City Investments which claimed the money would give exclusivity on the property. It also said the money would remain in the deposit account under Mr Newall’s name and couldn’t be used for other purposes.
O’Brien also furnished Mr Newall with a document purporting to be from Anglo Irish Bank. It gave false details of the balance of an account held by O’Brien.
Mr Newall transferred €2.1m to O’Brien’s account, which was used to pay off third parties and interest on properties.
For this loan, O’Brien duped his father, Leo O’Brien into being guarantor. His father signed a letter to Mr Newall to say he would pay the money if O’Brien defaulted on the loan which was up on September 30, 2008.
Det Sgt Griffin told the court that Leo O’Brien believed that he had cash assets in the bank worth more than the loan. The account was empty.
O’Brien split the money between his bank accounts and used some of it to purchase property in Barbados.
Mr Newall is at a €4.4m loss.
— — — — — — — — — — — O’Brien’s friend, Peter O’Reilly, introduced him to his next victim, Martin O’Brien.
Martin O’Brien was shown a brochure for the Place Vendome property in Paris and assured his cash advance would be retained on deposit. O’Brien said the money would give him exclusivity to the purchase of this property.
On September 2, 2008, Martin O’Brien transferred €500,000 to O’Brien. The disgraced businessman then used it to pay returns on other investments, including for Daniel Maher, and for home improvements.
He got a further €185,000 advancement from Martin O’Brien for the Paris property deal, which was also divided into his bank accounts and some of it lodged into a friend’s US account.
Mr O’Brien is at a €685,000 loss.
— — — — — — — — — — — Daniel Maher was approached by O’Brien about the Paris scheme. O’Brien name dropped businessman Edward Quinlan into correspondences to Mr Maher about the bogus deal.
Det Sgt Griffin said Mr Quinlan had no involvement with any deal and was “horrified” when he found out about it.
O’Brien sent an email to Mr Maher, using his nickname “Mossy”, and said Mr Quinlan’s clients in Dubai were “gagging” to get their hands on the Paris property. He claimed he needed to show the property owners he was worth €6.5m.
Mr Maher gave €450,000 to O’Brien and got none of it back.
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