A GRANDMOTHER who falsely claimed more than €150,000 in benefits from the Department of Social Protection has avoided an immediate prison sentence.
Anne Brennan, 67, of Lawn Way, John Carew Park, Southill had admitted stealing the money over a 17-year-period.
During a sentencing hearing, Sergeant Kevin Heffernan told Limerick Circuit Court an investigation was launched in late 2016 after concerns emerged when Ms Brennan presented at the Intreo offices at Dominic Street.
He said an alert was raised through the use of facial recognition technology and that the Department became concerned that Ms Brennan was claiming benefits she was not entitled to.
Her home was searched in February 2017 and it was subsequently established the defendant – who has 27 grandchildren – had been claiming a variety of benefits using the identity card of another woman who has a similar name.
Ms Brennan, who works as a cleaner, has pleaded guilty to 14 sample charges having been charged with more than 70 relating to offences which happened on dates between October 2000 and February 2017.
The theft charges related to offences which were committed at the GPO, Cecil Street involving amounts of money ranging from €98.40 to €460.60.
Judge Tom O’Donnell was told a total of €157,603 was falsely claimed by the defendant in illness and pension benefits.
Lorcan Connolly BL said his client has worked hard all her life but has “nothing to show” for her offending. “She succumbed to temptation, she knows the wrongness of what she did. She did not benefit personally,” he said adding she has a dilapidated house and an old car.
Mr Connolly said his client’s offending had “snowballed out of control” and that there was an element of relief when she was caught.
He added that while some monies are being deducted by the department, there is is “no reality” to all of the money being repaid.
Imposing sentence, Judge O’Donnell said it was a difficult case to assess and he commented that there was a “significant loss to the taxpayer” as a result of the defendant’s behaviour.
He accepted Ms Brennan was the “main bread winner” for her family and that the monies had been used to pay household costs.
The judge noted there has been damage to her standing in the community as a result of the court proceedings and that one of her daughters died suddenly earlier this year.
“I must look at the offence and the circumstances of the offender,” he commented adding that Ms Brennan’s previous good record and her admissions were significant mitigating factors he was entitled to consider.
He imposed a two and-a-half year prison sentence which he suspended in its entirety.