The court heard that Breifne O’Brien’s deceptions first began to come to light when an allegation was made during civil proceedings in 2008 and Mr Justice Peter Kelly referred the matter to the Garda fraud squad.
Detective Sergeant Martin Griffin said that the ensuing Garda investigation into the train of financial transactions from 2003 to 2009 involved a painstaking analysis of many thousands of documents and bank records.
He said 42 orders were sought from the district court for financial records covering the period.
The court heard that O’Brien had 83 bank accounts through himself or through various companies. He was a director of a number of companies including Blackrock Cabs, Eco Finn, and Avoneer, as an internet cafe and a convenience store.
Det Sgt Griffin said O’Brien had some success in laundry and taxi cab business in his early days after leaving Trinity College, and he was also brought into some business transactions with his father, a long established businessman in Cork.
Luán Ó Braonáin, prosecuting, said that O’Brien was in a world in which he could see how successful business could be done nationally and internationally and what the rewards can come from it.
He said through this, he became familiar with the people involved in these businesses.
The court heard that the six victims were not picked at random but were known to O’Brien through his and his wife’s early college days and his family’s business connections.
O’Brien knew Louis Dowley, a dairy farmer with an address at Carrick-on-Suir, because Mr Dowley’s wife attended Trinity College at the same time as O’Brien.
O’Brien studied economics and social studies in the early 1980s and his friendship with Mr Dowley built up in the years following college when they often attended family gatherings such as christenings and weddings.
The court heard they had friends in common and also went on ski holidays together. O’Brien ended up deceiving Mr Dowley out of €4m.
In 1983, Daniel Maher met O’Brien on a holiday while O’Brien was a student and they remained friends for 25 years, often sharing holidays together. Mr Maher ended up giving O’Brien €450,000.
Dubliner Evan Newall knew O’Brien through a mutual friend Peter O’Reilly and also through a man named Edward Quinlan. O’Brien deceived Mr Newell of a total of about €3m.
Mr O’Reilly and O’Brien set up a Dublin restaurant called Starvin’ Marvins that ultimately closed down.
O’Brien began a business career with mixed success and by 1999, he was running a number of convenience stores and laundromats as well as a cab company. He disposed of these in the early 2000s and began to become heavily involved and obsessed by investing, the court heard.
Peter O’Reilly had gone on to work as a financial advisor and O’Brien would later approach him with proposals and he would introduce O’Brien to potential clients.
In 2008, Mr O’Reilly introduced O’Brien to Dubliner Patrick Doyle and Martin O’Brien, from Naas, Co Kildare. During the years of running his Ponzi scheme, O’Brien deceived Mr Doyle and Mr O’Brien of €500,000.
When gardaí raided O’Brien’s house in March 2009, they uncovered handwritten notes addressed to his victims. Det Sgt Griffin said these were part of a therapy exercise and were not intended for the injured parties.
O’Brien made admissions to his victims during an open meeting held by a solicitor from McCann Fitzgerald. He expressed sorrow and referred to “a condition for which he proposed to seek treatment”.
Patrick McGrath, defending, submitted that O’Brien has lost his family, he has no assets, and he is on social welfare as a consequence of his wrong doing.
He said his client is divorced, has limited access to his children, is estranged from his elderly father, and shunned socially. Counsel said O’Brien’s guilty plea saved his victims and the State a lengthy trial.
He submitted to Judge Patricia Ryan that O’Brien was “firmly of the belief that he could pay people back” adding “He is a man who has sought to make good”.
Mr McGrath also asked the judge to bear in mind the adverse publicity surrounding his client’s commercial court case and comments made by president of the High Court about this.
He asked her to take into account the “shame and humiliation” suffered by O’Brien, who has no previous convictions.
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