herald

Thursday 8 December 2016

€100,000 benefits fraud pensioner avoids prison term

Marie McMahon claimed her sister’s social welfare benefits. Photo: Collins
Marie McMahon claimed her sister’s social welfare benefits. Photo: Collins

A pensioner who stole more than €100,000 by using her sister's social welfare card to fraudulently claim benefits has avoided jail on condition that she carries out 240 hours of community service.

Marie McMahon (68), a former women's rights campaigner, told gardai that when her sister, Katherine, emigrated to America in 1992, her friend initially used the woman's social welfare card to pick up her benefits.

When this woman went into hospital, McMahon agreed to continue collecting the payments and they split the money.

The friend died in 2012 and McMahon continued to collect her sister's benefits until she was detected through facial recognition technology in July 2014.

She told officers she believed that if she stopped collecting the money, social welfare would have to start an investigation and she would be caught, so she decided to continue the fraud.

McMahon, of Aideen Avenue, Terenure, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 13 charges of stealing various amounts of social welfare payments from James's Street Post Office between September 1, 2002 and June 11, 2014.

Protest

She has one previous conviction for possession of drugs from 1979.

At the original sentence hearing in March, Lorcan Staines, defending, handed in a large volume of testimonials and said his client had been involved in a protest movement in relation to women's rights for many years.

The case was adjourned to June, when Mr Staines told the court that friends of McMahon had gathered €6,000 towards repayment of the money stolen.

She was also paying €15 per week from her benefits.

Judge Melanie Greally noted that many people coming before the courts were now being detected through facial imaging systems.

"Persons who think that they will get away with social welfare fraud need to wake up," she warned.

She said McMahon's fall from grace and loss of reputation had been considerable.

Judge Greally imposed a five-year sentence, which she suspended in full on condition that McMahon carry out 240 hours of community service and continue to pay €15 per week to the Department of Social Protection.

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