Two Dublin grandparents have avoided going to jail after they admitted fraudulently claiming over €72,000 in social welfare payments over 11 years.
Annette McCluskey (57) was working as a cleaner under an assumed name while her husband Edward (61) falsely claimed adult-dependent allowance payments.
Annette McCluskey has received a three-year suspended sentence while her husband Edward was handed a two-year suspended sentence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.
The court heard that arrangements have been made for the couple to pay €28 a week to the Department of Social and Family Affairs to offset the debt and that to date, they have repaid over €3,000.
Announcing her judgement, Judge Karen O’Connor said it had taken her some time, serious thought and the assistance of the Probation Services to come to her conclusion not to impose a custodial sentence.
She said there was no reality to community service being part of the sentence, given the circumstances and ill-health of the McCluskeys, who live at Pearse House in Dublin.
Judge O’Connor said the headline sentence for Annette McCluskey was five years and for Edward McCluskey three years, but that she had to consider the mitigating factors in making her decision.
“This was not a victimless crime,” said Judge O’Connor. “There were multiple counts over a considerable period of time. The Exchequer was left at a significant loss, and funds which might have helped our health services or education services have been lost,” she said.
However, the judge said the McCluskeys have learnt a “salutary lesson”, were embarrassed by this matter coming to light and were unlikely to re-engage in this type of offence.
She accepted that the McCluskeys showed no signs of a lavish lifestyle or trappings of wealth and that Edward’s alcohol addiction had impacted on his wife’s financial means and also on her quality of life.
“What is apparent is that she is a person who has worked hard to rear her children. She has made a positive contribution to her local community, volunteering for 17 years assisting with senior citizens,” said the judge of Annette McCluskey.
She noted that Edward McCluskey was gravely ill and unable to walk 300 yards to visit his GP, that his wife also suffered from ill-health and that they both had mental health difficulties.
Annette AKA Anna McCluskey had pleaded guilty to three sample counts of stealing adult dependent allowance from the Department of Social and Family Affairs at Pearse Street Post Office, Pearse Street, Dublin on dates between July 2004 and March 2013.
She also pleaded guilty to using a PPS number in the name of Jacqueline Hayden at SIPTU College, Canal House, South Circular Road on July 15, 2005. She has no previous convictions.
Edward McCluskey pleaded guilty to sample counts of stealing adult dependent allowance from the Department of Social and Family Affairs also at Pearse Street Post Office on dates between July 2004 and March 2012.
He further pleaded guilty to concealing that Annette McCluskey was employed at the Social Welfare Office, Tara Street, Dublin on June 21, 2005. He has 13 previous convictions, with the most recent dating back to 1983.
Garda Ian Abbey said Annette McCluskey later revealed that she took on work as a cleaner and home helper under another name because of her husband’s alcohol issues and her debts to money lenders.
Gda Abbey told Gerardine Small BL, prosecuting, that he began investigating Annette McCluskey in April 2015 after receiving a complaint about the grandmother-of-two working under a false name.
He said he observed Annette McCluskey entering SIPTU College and later got a warrant to search her home. Edward McCluskey was present during the raid and told gardaí that his wife was working and had not declared this employment to the Department of Social and Family Affairs.
Annette McCluskey attended voluntarily for a garda interview some months later and claimed she couldn’t recall from whom she got the PPS number.
She said the reasons for the fraud were her husband’s alcohol issues and their financial concerns. She said she was being paid fortnightly for her job as home helper.
Gda Abbey agreed with Marie Torrens BL, defending Annette McCluskey, that her client had said she’d gotten into debt to money lenders.
He agreed with Derek Cooney BL, defending Edward McCluskey, that his client had co-operated with the investigation.
Ms Torrens submitted that her client was in poor health, but kind to her neighbours.
Mr Cooney submitted that his client, who has serious health issues, knew what he was doing was wrong but that it “got out of hand”.