29 Sept 2022

Man could face jail for second social welfare fraud offence, warns judge

The defendant is still paying back money from a previous offence

Ballyshannon courthouse Donegal

Ballyshannon courthouse

A Ballyshannon man who claimed social welfare payments to which he was not entitled could be heading to jail, a judge has warned.

Marcus Cullen, 8 East Rock, Ballyshannon appeared before Ballyshannon District Court on Friday. 

He is charged with failing to notify the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection of a change of circumstances on January 26, 2019. Cullen is also charged with making false statements to receive benefits on February 6, 2019 and March 6, 2019. He pleaded guilty to the offences. 

State solicitor Ciaran Liddy told the court that the defendant was working in a restaurant in Bundoran at the time. He received €1,069.20 in social welfare payments, all of which remains outstanding. 

The solicitor said Cullen was invited for interview following an inspection, and he was cooperative. 

“When questioned as to why he had failed to notify the department, he said he had notified a gentleman some time prior to that,” said Mr Liddy. 

“The inspector made enquiries and nothing came of it. The person had retired some months before that.”

The solicitor added that there were further sign-ons after that in which Cullen said he was unemployed.

The court heard that the defendant was still paying back money from a previous offence of social welfare fraud in 2015 and 2015. He had also served 240 hours community service in lieu of 12 months in prison.

Defence solicitor Frank Murray acknowledged that his client should not have signed on for social welfare at the time, but stressed that he had made a full and frank disclosure when questioned. 

“The money is a substantial amount but not the large amounts we would normally see in these matters,” said Mr Murphy. 

Judge Sandra Murphy asked why the defendant, who had no dependents, was still paying off the money from the previous offences. 

The solicitor replied: “His earnings wouldn’t be all that high. He has only recently returned to work. He earns €340 per week and pays €100 rent.”

Judge Murphy agreed that the amount of money defrauded from social welfare wasn’t terribly high. 

But she added: “It is aggravated by the fact that it is following on from a previous circuit court offence. 

“It doesn’t show that he has any insight into it at all when he went ahead and did it again. 

“It is a very serious offence. 

“To be back in that situation again concerns me. However, because I have to consider community service and because of Mr Cullens’ circumstances, I will order a probation report and community service report.”

The matter was adjourned to November 6, with Judge Murphy warning the defendant that he could be looking at a custodial sentence. 

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