Donal O’Callaghan spent over three decades defrauding the state out of his dead parents’ pensions, spinning a lie that they were alive along the way so he could steal the money
Image: Michael MacSweeney)
A son claimed his dead parents’ pensions for 33 years and was only caught cashing in when his dad turned 100.
A court heard how Donal O’Callaghan spent decades claiming his dead parents pension totaling £441,973, but was caught out when his father became eligible for the centenary bounty check.
The 58-year-old defrauded over half a million euros from his parents, Donald and Eileen, from 1987 to 2020 in one of the largest and longest running known cases of welfare fraud, the Irish Mirror reported.
Garda Michael Nagle told Cork Circuit Criminal Court that the investigation also revealed that Donald had claimed a pension for his dead wife from 1979 until his own death in 1987.
It wasn’t until his father’s supposed 100th birthday that his elaborate fraud scheme was rumbled.
After speaking to Don, he tried to accept the financial reward, and the social welfare inspector then tried to verify Donald’s details, who was dead.
She contacted the public health nurse, who had no record of Donald O’ Callaghan.
Unable to make contact with anybody else who could verify the information, in August 2020 the inspector spoke with Garda Nagle about the matter.
In a bid to verify that Donald O’Callaghan was alive Garda Nagle contacted the public health nurse, home help services, local GPs and all of the main hospitals in the city.
Donald O’Callaghan or Eileen O’Callaghan were not known to any of them and no death certificates could be located.
Because of this, Garda Nagle started to carry out surveillance of the O’Callaghan home on the northside of the city.
He told the court: “I eventually began to physically check various cemeteries over a number of weeks.
“In September 2020 I located the grave of Eileen O’ Callaghan at Tory Top Road cemetery and the following week I located the grave of Donald O’ Callaghan in Douglas cemetery.”
Garda Nagle also got a hold of CCTV from three collections of the pension in August and September 2020 and they were all collected by a man whom he believed to be Don.
On October 9, 2020 I have conducted a surveillance at GPO Cork.
He arrested Don O’Callaghan, who had just collected the fortnightly pension payment of €961.60 (£805) in cash.
Mr O’Callaghan made full admissions in relation to the collection of his parents’ pensions from 1987 to 2020.
Garda located €9,800 (£8,220) in cash suspected to be proceeds from the pension payments from the home of Mr O’Callaghan.
Donal got away with the crime for so long, completing documentation on five separate occasions to keep up the lie his parents were alive.
In 1990 Don O’Callaghan submitted a fuel allowance application to the department, listing the occupants of the address as himself and both of his parents.
There were three continued eligibility certificates sent to Donald O’Callaghan at 4 Churchfield Green.
Garda Nagle said: “There was one cert sent to 4 Churchfield Green in 1996, one in 2013 and one in 2017.
“These certificates were all returned completed and signed, appearing to have been submitted by Donald O’Callaghan but in fact completed and signed by the defendant.
“These declarations allowed the pension to remain in payment as they declared that there has been no change in the circumstances of Donald O’Callaghan.”
Don also became the official agent to collect the pension on behalf of his father in 2009.
In June 2014 an application form for a public services card was sent to Donald O’ Callaghan at his address.
This form was returned completed with dad Donald’s information, as though completed and signed by him.
A photograph was returned with the form, as required for inclusion on the card.
The department deemed that the quality of the photograph was too poor to use on the public services card and Garda Nagle said they sent a letter to Donald O’Callaghan’s address, requesting a better-quality photograph of him.
Garda Nagle said another photograph was subsequently sent to the Department for inclusion on the card.
“It transpires that this photograph was taken by Don O’Callaghan of an elderly man whom he knew, who was of a similar age to what his father Donald O’Callaghan would have been.
“He had no other suitable photograph of his father and took the photograph of this male in order to ensure that the fraud continued.
“With nothing to compare it to and no reason to suspect anything untoward, this photograph was accepted by the department and in February 2015, a public services card was issued to Donald O’Callaghan, by post, bearing the photograph of this unknown elderly male .”
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Donal himself was also in receipt of benefits and the court was told he would’ve taken close to €700 (£587) per week on average and traveled abroad on a number of occasions.
Garda Nagle said that O’Callaghan also has one son who resides in Thailand with his Thai mother.
O’Callaghan was regularly sending payments by money transfer to his child’s mother, for support of his child.
In the 33 years during which this fraud was committed, there were almost 1,700 separate collections of this pension payment made by Don O’ Callaghan and a total of €527,000 (£441,973) was collected.
Mr O’Callaghan pleaded guilty to 73 sample counts of social welfare fraud dating back over three decades. 68 counts relate to theft whilst five refer to false documentation in support of the fraudulent claims.
All of the theft offenses occurred at Cork GPO on Oliver Plunkett Street in Cork with the forgery offenses taking place at the office of the Department of Social Protection in Cork.
Defense barrister, Ray Boland, SC, claimed that his client had a chronic gambling addiction for which he was seeking treatment.
He pleaded for leniency in the case given the guilty plea, his client’s co-operation with gardai and his lack of previous convictions.
Judge Helen Boyle adjourned the case until Wednesday morning to consider her position on sentencing.