Man appeared at Tullamore Circuit Court
AN Offaly man who stole money from investors while claiming he was acting for a leading auctioneering firm is facing six-and-a-half years in jail.
A suspended sentence was imposed on Laurence Murphy, 39, Clonminch, Tullamore in November 2019 for offences committed in 2016, Tullamore Circuit Court heard on Thursday (March 11)
The sentence was suspended on condition he pay €140,000 in compensation to two men, €105,000 in one case and €35,000 in another, within 12 months.
Kevin White, BL, prosecuting, told Judge Keenan Johnson the monies were obtained by Mr Murphy when he was holding himself out as a property consultant and a man who was working for Savills Auctioneers.
That turned out not to be the case and the money which was obtained for the purpose of purchasing property, or putting down deposits, was never used for that purpose.
Instead, it was put into Mr Murphy's own account in AIB and never returned to the injured parties and no property was ever bought.
Mr Murphy entered a guilty plea in November 2018 and sentencing was then adjourned on a number of occasions when proposals were made to raise compensation.
The first proposal was that a loan secured against his mother's home be obtained and subsequently Mr Murphy proposed to sell a site at the rear of the family home.
Planning permission was sought but the proposal did not come to fruition and the prosecution was re-entered because no compensation had been paid.
Ken Fogarty, SC, defending, said Mr Murphy's activities had been impacted by the pandemic and he sought a “Covid break” to try and put the finances together.
Mr Fogarty also said the accused was terrified of going to prison. He had sole custody of his 14-year-old son and there was a letter from a psychotherapist saying imprisonment would have a significant impact on Mr Murphy's parents, both aged 75.
Called to give evidence himself, Mr Murphy told the court he agreed that using his parents and son as a shield was the last refuge of a scoundrel and he apologised to the court.
He said he had started a hospitality business in December 2019 but it was totally wiped out last March and he was now involved with a technology company.
Asked by Judge Johnson what had happened to his proposal to sell a site, Mr Murphy said a planning application had been made but further information sought by the council could not be provided and permission would not be granted.
Mr Murphy said he was still working to raise funds and had a percentage shareholding which he could have released by the end of May and which would realise €187,000.
When Judge Johnson asked Mr Fogarty for details of this proposal, defence counsel read from a letter to Mr Murphy's solicitor, Aisling Maloney, which referred to confirmation of the “beneficial financial interest” as per a previous email.
The letter, dated March 8, said it was essential the matter be treated with the strictest confidence and not aired “where the newspapers would be in a position to report”.
Judge Johnson said that meant nothing to him and unless he had concrete evidence that €187,000 would be paid in May Mr Murphy would be jailed for six years and six months.
The judge said he felt he had let the victims down and he was fed up of being spun yarns and was not convinced there was any substance to the latest proposal.
He said Mr Murphy deserved to be in jail because what he had done was outrageous, fraudulently producing receipts from Savills and stealing money from vulnerable people who were led up the garden path.
Reading a document handed to him by the defence, he said Mr Murphy had been told by the local authority in November 2019 that he would not be getting planning permission because of issues regarding sight lines at the site entrance.
He adjourned the matter for a week to March 18.
Previously, a sentencing hearing had been told Mr Murphy had paid €2,700 in compensation for the offences.
The accused was said to have a dissociative personality disorder. He had worked in auctioneering all his life.
He had opened a bank account in the name of Savills and while acting as an agent for that firm, approached a developer saying he was selling land in Tullamore and in Duleek, Co Meath.
The developer paid over two cheques for €25,000 to Mr Murphy, believing he was paying Savills.
The man received a receipt with a Savills logo and another with a forged signature.
When the developer rang Savills he was told Mr Murphy did not work for them and was never employed by them.
Mr Murphy also received deposits from a number of people, including a pregnant woman, for rental properties which did not exist.
The full amount stolen by Mr Murphy was up to €250,000.
One victim asked how Mr Murphy could walk the streets in his expensive suit and overcoat.
Judge Johnson said Mr Murphy had a cavalier attitude to the court and had funded a lavish lifestyle with his victims' money.