A COUNTY Limerick businessman who attempted to defraud €52,000 from AXA Insurance by falsely reporting that his luxury car had been hijacked has avoided a prison sentence.
However, a judge has ordered that the 2012-registered Mercedes at the centre of the case be forfeited to the State and sold at auction.
Earlier this year, Pat Laffan, aged 62, of Tullovin, Croom admitted making a fraudulent insurance claim, relating to his Mercedes, on December 16, 2013.
Limerick Circuit Court was told the defendant, who was a voluntary director of Rathkeale and District Credit Union at the time, made a statement to the Police Service of Northern Ireland claiming his car had taken from him by a group of men who forced him off the road as he was travelling to visit friends in Newtownards.
In his detailed statement of complaint, which was read out in court, he told the PSNI that one of the men had men had called him a “Fenian f*****”.
Laffan, who is an advertising sales manager for a wedding planning website, told detectives that he had pulled from the vehicle and left in darkness on the side of the road.
During sentencing hearing, Detective Garda Fergal Hanrahan said the defendant made a claim with AXA the day after the alleged hijacking.
He agreed with John O’Sullivan BL, prosecuting, that the claim was for the full value of the car as he had paid for extra cover when he took out the insurance having bought the vehicle new.
AXA, he said, became suspicious about after the claim was received and launched an investigation a number of days later - resulting in a delay in the claim being processed.
Judge Tom O’Donnell was told Laffan wrote to AXA in March 2014 expressing his annoyance and threatening to refer the matter to his solicitor if the claim was not paid within seven days.
Det Fergal Hanrahan said the defendant’s car was located by gardai at a lock-up facility in the city on March 31, 2014 - three days before he (Laffan) reiterated his version of events in an email to AXA.
The owner of the premises told gardai Laffan had approached him a number of months earlier asked if he could park the Mercedes there for a few weeks as he was waiting for gearbox parts.
Following his arrests in on April 9, 2014 the married father-of-four made admissions telling gardai he had done it as he was in financial difficulties.
The court was told the Mercedes, which was bought new by Laffan, remains in the possession of gardai and that the claim was never paid by AXA.
Pat Barriscale BL, said his client had debts of almost €100,000 at the time as his income dropped enormously during the recession.
A medical report from Laffan’s GP stated that he was suffering “severe tension and depression” in 2013 due to his financial pressures and that he had been prescribed anti-depressants.
“He accepts and admits he hatched this scheme and followed through on it,” he said adding that he did not think of the consequences.
Mr Barriscale said the publicity surrounding the proceedings has had disastrous consequences for his client who has been subjected to public shame and ridicule.
Imposing sentence, Judge Tom O’Donnell said the offence was “clearly premeditated in an effort to make financial gain”.
He said the case was one of the most bizarre to come before the court in recent times and that the behaviour of Laffan was “somewhere between deliberate deceit and crass stupidity”.
The judge accepted submissions that the offence was an aberration but said the actions of the accused had resulted in an enormous waste of valuable police time - particularly as a large amount of CCTV was harvested and viewed.
He sentenced Laffan to 18 months imprisonment but suspended the sentence for three years.
He ordered that the Mercedes car be forfeited to State and auctioned off with 50% of the monies raised to go to the PSNI benevolent fund.
After handing down his judgement, Judge O’Donnell commended the actions of the AXA investigator for his tenacity in dealing with the matter.