NewsCrime Desk

Fraudster preyed on families of prisoners with bail scam

Bernard Hassett
Bernard Hassett

MEET the pensioner fraudster convicted for the fourth time for a scam where he poses as a criminal justice official looking for bail money off prisoners’ families.

Despite being eligible for a government bus-pass four years ago, chancer Bernard Hassett admitted to his latest caper in a Co. Galway court last week in which he demanded €8,000 from a sex offender’s wife.

It was not the first time the 70-year-old has come before the courts for similar scams.

In 1999, Hassett hit the headlines after a court heard how he got in touch with the family of Pat Gillane, who was jailed for soliciting men to murder his wife, and pretended to be a Department of Justice official who could arrange temporary release.

However, this week he wasn’t saying if he had finally retired from his con-artist career when the Sunday World called to his Co. Clare home.

“No, I’m not interested,” he said, when asked to speak about why he had posed as an official to dupe cash from prisoners’ families.

However, the serial spoofer later made contact and threatened to take legal action to stop the story going to print.

“There are worse criminals around here than me. In retrospect, it was a stupid thing to do and to be honest to the victim she didn’t make a big deal of it,” he said.

A stay of 12 months was put on his latest sentence of four years, which was imposed at Galway Circuit Court last month.

He had sent a letter in 2013 to a Co. Galway woman pretending to be from the Director of Public Prosecutions Office.

The letter said that she could secure bail for her husband, but first had to make contact with an official whose phone number was included in the correspondence.

When the unsuspecting victim rang the number she spoke to a man claiming to be a ‘Sean Ryan’ – who in fact was Hassett – who asked her for €8,000 to have her husband released on bail.

Her husband, Liam Brien, was sentenced to eight years in prison – which was reduced to five on appeal – in 2013 for the sexual assault of four schoolgirls in the Galway area.

Brien assaulted the girls – aged between five and 12 – at his parents’ house in Killimor between 1996 and 2006.

The five-day trial had been covered extensively in the media, and Hassett had read about it.

Over a three-day period he sent a number of texts and also spoke to the woman on the phone, giving the impression that he could secure bail for her husband.

He asked the woman for €8,000 in cash, but became angry when she suggested that she would instead give him a bank draft.

As a result, she contacted Gardaí, who arrested Hassett in July of that year.

Gardaí said in court that Hassett didn’t co-operate with their investigation.

 

He has 35 previous convictions – going back to when he was 19 – for forgery, deception, fraud and theft.

At the same he was trying to scam Mrs Brien he was also trying to get cash out of a Tralee man whose son had been jailed for threatening to kill gardaí.

In that case, Hassett once again made an approach using forged letters from the DPP and a wellknown Cork-based solicitor.

He told the man €4,000 in bail money should be handed over to him.

Hassett pleaded guilty to the forgery and deception charges in that case just before his jury trial was due to start.

Thirteen years previously he involved himself in a high-profile case when he tried to con IR£5,000 from a Galway businessman who had previously acted as a bailsman for Pat Gillane, the Galway man accused of looking for men to kill his wife Philomena.

In May 1999, using the name Jim Doyle, Hassett said he was with the Department of Justice and wanted to get a message to Mr Gillane’s brother, Kevin, that Pat was to get temporary release.

He said that cash bail of IR£5,000 would be required and that it should not be discussed with Pat Gillane.

The businessman contacted his solicitor and quickly discovered it was a scam.

Another Galway family, however, handed over IR£3,000 after being contacted by Hassett.

The fraudster had read about their son, who had been jailed for dangerous driving following the death of young girl. He used the name Tom Downes, claiming to be a probation and welfare officer working at Galway Courthouse. He told the family their son could be collected at Castlerea that day, but then phoned to say there was a problem and to go the next day.

When the family called the prison they discovered it was a con.

Hassett was later sentenced to five years for those scams. In a victim impact statement his latest victim said that Hassett’s letter was “nothing more than a hoax to extort money from me”.

However, she said she had also forgiven him and hoped he wouldn’t do it to any other person.

“He’s an elderly person and I’m asking the judge not to impose a custodial sentence,” she added in her statement.

Hassett’s defence lawyer said that there was “a degree of fantasy” in his behaviour while in contact with Brien’s wife.

A report said Hassett had a difficult childhood and experienced “very serious difficulties” at school, which had long-term effects.