Man goes on three-week spending spree on stolen credit card, court hears

Thursday, 17 November 2016

A COURT has heard how a Strabane man went on a three-week spending spree racking up a bill of over 9,000 euro on a credit card he had stolen from his brother.

Appearing at Strabane Magistrates Court on Friday last to be sentenced for 13 counts of fraud by false representation and one charge of theft was Gerard Griffin (52), with an address of Ballycolman Estate.

The court was told that Griffin had used the card to withdraw 1,518.41 and 330 euro on this side of the border. He is also facing prosecution in the Republic of Ireland for similar offences where it is alleged the bulk of the cash was withdrawn with the same card.

He is due before a court in Letterkenny in the New Year when a book of evidence will be served on him for those offences.

The court was told police received a complaint on behalf of the defendant's brother, Kenneth Griffin, earlier this year regarding the theft of his credit card and the subsequent withdrawal of monies totalling 9,490 euro across the two jurisdictions.

The defendant was arrested on June 8 and during interview he admitted stealing the card and pin number from a cupboard at his brother's house whilst he was away on holiday.

Griffin admitted to using the card on a number of occasions to make the cash withdrawals. The card was used a total of 13 times in Northern Ireland on dates between February 27 and March 19 this year.

CCTV footage taken from the Ulster Bank in Strabane captured the defendant "clearly" three of the four times it was used there making withdrawals. There was no CCTV available from any of the other banks involved.

During police interview, Griffin admitted the first transaction to the value of 500. He told officers that he could remember this because it was the first time he had used the card in Northern Ireland. He also admitted the seventh transaction of 140 euro stating that he knew this because it was the first time he had used the euro machine at Ulster Bank.

The defendant told police the other withdrawals were "more than likely him" but that he couldn't remember any other specific dates.

"He stated that he's not to be trusted with money. The cash was spent on rubbish and he had nothing to show for it. He says he does not smoke, drink or gamble and is not in debt to anyone," a prosecutor told the court.

Representing the accused in court was barrister, Steven Mooney, who said that it was a "bad case" with "aggravating factors". He told the court that Griffin, who is employed as an environmental worker in Donegal, could pay 100 per month to recompense his brother but conceded that it was a "paltry sum compared to the overall figure".

"It would appear that the bank are still chasing the money suggesting that nothing good has happened so far as insurance is concerned," he added.

Moving to address Griffin's use of the money, the barrister admitted that he had been given no clear instructions and that the defendant was "at a loss" to explain his spending.

"The court will quite rightly ask what's the money been spent on? When it is being stolen from one's own flesh and blood, it must be taken for some absolutely necessary purpose or some addiction. I've gone through this with him and asked if there's been any pressing medical or social need for this money, for example debt purposes. That is not the case. I've also queried with him if he has any addiction problems and he tells me that's not applicable to his present lifestyle," he said.

Mr Mooney told the court that a previous conviction for dishonesty offences dating back some 17 years ago had been used for the purpose of paying gambling debts.

At that time, Griffin was sentenced to 18 months jail in the Republic of Ireland for stealing money from a church where his father was a key holder.

"There appears to have been a specific addiction behind that theft but on this occasion, he does not accept that the monies were being taken to fund any addiction. During the course of his interview he is at a loss to explain what the money went on. It appears to have gone on day to day household shopping... I have not been given nor can I offer the court a satisfactory account of where that money he took from his brother ultimately went. He says he effectively wasted it."

The barrister said that when the theft was detected Griffin was confronted by his brother and he immediately held his hands up. He added that the injured party possibly may have not got the police involved if his client had been able to pay the money back.

His client, he said, had also made full admissions during interview and "didn't provide any cock and bull story". "This has been a very unpleasant experience for the whole family and his plea has at least spared his brother having to come to court and give evidence about his own brother's betrayal of him," Steven Mooney said.

"He has pleaded guilty and made admissions at interview which is an indication of remorse. He has shown an acknowledgment of how this has impacted on his brother and he has shown some degree of empathy. It may be because the injured party hasn't had a face to face apology from his brother that he may take that as a sign of him lacking remorse."

The legal representative said Griffin had since been "completely ostracised" by his family.

"He's not wallowing in self-pity about this. These are the collateral by products of what he has done. He is effectively a very, very lonely, pathetic and isolated individual as things presently stand.

"The trail of evidence that led to him was the proverbial trail of breadcrumbs. It may be the court finds that only an immediate custodial sentence meets the justice of this case. If that is the case I would ask your worship to bear in mind his plea of guilty and the 17 years of blameless life since his last conviction, and if the court wishes to show a degree of clemency, to give some consideration to suspending any sentence but I appreciate that may be an ask too far in the circumstances," the barrister said.

District judge, Liam McStay, said he took all the comments on board. He referred to the "very detailed and honest" victim impact statement provided to the court by the defendant's brother.

"This was credit that Mr Griffin had put in place so that there would be an emergency fund if he and his family needed it if they got into difficulties. It wasn't lying around; it was credit that had been built up by his good name and sense over a number of years. That credit was simply cleaned out by this man whilst his brother was on holiday visiting his children. It could take this family absolutely years and years to recover from this.

"Everybody knows that in the current circumstances, banks are not likely to find a way to wash away this stain that this man has brought on his brother's credit history. The impact on Mr Griffin (the injured party) and his family is huge," he said.

Turning to the defendant's conviction from 17 years ago, the judge said it was "absolutely dramatic" and that despite that breach of trust being "hugely traumatic" for his entire family they had "extended forgiveness and trust to him to the degree that 17 years later his brother felt that he was sufficiently responsible and could be trusted about his home whilst he was away."

He continued: "This man knew his brother's circumstance and he knew when he was spiriting away sums of money that there wasn't a fund that would simply going to replenish that. He knew the gravity of what he was doing.

"In his interview, which is very self-serving, he says he was immediately aware that he was going to be found out and that it was going to be crippling for his brother and yet he continued to make withdrawals.

"The only thing that stopped him, he says, was that the line of credit had run out and no more money would come out of the hole in the wall. It's an absolutely disgraceful case."

Mr McStay said Griffin's pledge to repay 100 per month was of "no real value".

"He does not explain why he took this money. His brother is utterly bemused that this amount would be taken and yet there would be no explanation as to where it went. This defendant is deliberately not telling the court the truth. It is inevitable that he wasted it."

Moving to pass sentence, the judge said that whilst Griffin would be dealt with for the "bulk of offending" in Donegal, this was a case which "cries out" for a custodial sentence.

"I find no way in which I can avoid imposing an immediate imprisonment sentence on you. No other sentence would be appropriate, particularly the circumstances which you have left the victim, your own brother," he told the accused.

He imposed a five month jail sentence and an offender levy of 25. Griffin was also ordered to pay his brother compensation to the value of 1,700 to be paid within 26 weeks.

Bail was later granted in the sum of 250 for Griffin's release pending his appeal of the sentence. The appeal hearing will be heard on January 11.


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