A WOMAN who scammed a vulnerable man from Newtownstewart out of over £18,000 in less than a year, has been jailed at Dungannon Crown Court.
Although the case was a joint enterprise with her estranged partner, he absconded during his trial, abandoning the woman to face justice alone. He was sentenced in his absence and remains sought by police.
The case of Julie Larkin (39) of Barrack Street, Coalisland and Peter McDonagh (49) of Fox Street, Portadown, involved multiple counts of fraud by false representation. Larkin admitted the majority of charges, whilst McDonagh was convicted of 10 charges, but was not present for the verdict having fled mid-trial.
Between May 2013 and March 2014, the pair conned the victim out of £18,000 by use of aliases and fictious lawyers supposedly handling the estate of a deceased uncle. Posing as brother and sister, they endeared themselves and evoked sympathy from the kind-hearted victim with stories of hardship, distress and even a cancer diagnosis.
Both originally denied all charges and went on trial in March, but after the first day Larkin was rearraigned admitting nine charges. McDonagh’s trial continued, running for three days, but the court heard he absconded just as he was to give evidence. The trial continued in his absence with the jury returning guilty verdicts. He remains at large.
As a result Larkin stood alone in the dock for sentencing, and her defence counsel said guilt was accepted, describing the scam as “not the most sophisticated”.
His Honour Judge Neill Rafferty QC, said, “Her plea of guilty does not absolve her criminality. She played a somewhat active role. She cultivated friendship with the victim. She describes herself being ‘used as bait’. She knew exactly the role she was playing, and she played it with aplomb.”
Judge Rafferty initially adjourned sentencing of both defendants twice, warning Larkin she should prepare herself for prison. The first time was to accommodate her son who was siting his GSCEs. The second occurred when Larkin’s siblings advised they could gather £3,000 by way of partial restitution to the victim, although it was made clear this may reduce the duration of imprisonment but not replace it.
On return, the court was advised the cash had been lodged and will be passed to the victim.
Judge Rafferty said, “McDonagh is a confidence trickster… he identified a vulnerable, compliant victim, then introduced Larkin in the guise of his sister. McDonagh was the prime mover in this case, but Larkin was a central player.”
Jailing McDonagh in his absence to four-and-a-half-years, the judge added, “The targeting of the weak and vulnerable in our community will be not be tolerated.”
Turning to Larkin, Judge Rafferty took on board the guilty plea and the gathering of some funds to repay the victim. He imposed a prison term of 18 months with six to be spent in custody and the remainder under the supervision of Probation Services.