A DIRECTOR of a company which has gone into liquidation has been jailed for three years for filing fraudulent tax returns.
Limerick Circuit Court heard that Sean Hartigan, aged 53, formerly of North Circular Road still owes more than €180,000 to the Revenue Commissioners after he admitted making incorrect VAT returns and wrongfully reclaiming over €35,000 in VAT returns, which he was not entitled to.
All of the offences happened on dates in 2005, 2006 and 2007 and were only discovered during a Revenue Audit.
During a sentencing hearing this Wednesday, lawyers representing Hartigan said he could only repay €3,000 of the money he owed.
Andrew Sexton SC said his client is now a person of “no means” and is in receipt of social welfare, while one property which he owns in County Clare is in negative equity and is “close to worthless”.
However, despite Hartigan’s poor financial circumstances Judge Carroll Moran described the offer to repay €3,000 as “completely inadequate”.
Previously, the court heard that Hartigan’s company, Prestige Recycling Limited had provided labour to waste company Veolia Environmental Services to carry out segregation and compacting of recycled waste.
Proceedings were also brought against the company, but these were dropped by the DPP when it went into liquidation in 2008.
John O’Sullivan BL, prosecuting, said the essence of the case was not that Hartigan had charged Veolia the incorrect VAT rate, but that he had received money which he did not account for and that he had submitted VAT returns with nil on them when this was false.
In mitigation, Mr Sexton said his client, a former rugby player, did not pass the blame onto his accountants or book-keepers and had taken full responsibility once the fraudulent claims were discovered.
Mr Sexton submitted it was not a straight- forward case of the “money appearing in his [Hartigan’s] pocket”. He said the collapse of Dell’s manufacturing base in Raheen in 2009 had a serious impact on his client’s ability to repay the money he owed.
He said it was not a “sophisticated offence”, and he described it as “somewhat pathetic” because it was so easily uncoverable.
Mr Sexton said the offence should be seen in the context of the break-up of his client’s marriage in 2005.
Up to then, he said, Hartigan had a “blemish free record”.
“He was regarded as a very good family provider, employer and taxpayer,” he told the court.
Mr O’Sullivan he agreed that Mr Hartigan had made full admissions in relation to the offences and that he had co-operated fully with the Revenue investigation.
Mr Sexton submitted to the court that prison isn’t a suitable means of rehabilitation for people aged over 50, and he urged the judge to impose a community service order instead of a prison sentence.
However, imposing sentence, the judge said the defendant was the “director, owner and had sole control of the company”, and he said his business had suffered as much as any other in the downturn.
He said the serious aggravating factor in this case were Hartigan’s efforts to defraud the Revenue and he said “not to punish culprits like this is unfair on other compliant taxpayers.”
He added that it would undermine the “social solidarity” of the state if the courts were not seen to punish those convicted of such offences.
The judge sentenced Hartigan, who has no previous convictions, to three years in prison on each of the six sample charges, which were brought under the provisions of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997.
All of the prison sentences are to be served concurrently.