PICS: Prison takes it toll on Celtic Tiger scam artist Breifne O'Brien

NewsBy Patrick O'Connell
High life: Breifne O'Brien, with unwitting wife Fiona Nagle, before his scam was exposed
High life: Breifne O'Brien, with unwitting wife Fiona Nagle, before his scam was exposed

IRELAND’s ‘Bernie Madoff’ looks a frail shell of his Celtic Tiger self after a hard day prepping food and cleaning toilets in Mountjoy Prison.

Appearing almost skeletal in his prison whites, our exclusive pictures show pyramid-scheme fraudster Breifne O’Brien walking with killers and drug dealers back to his prison cell.

Now 55 years old, the pictures taken outside the Dublin prison’s Training Unit show how complete the fall from grace has been for the man whose glittering ‘seven-star’ hotel-style existence was funded by a fraudulent €8million Ponzi scheme.

O’Brien’s stringy hair exposes a receding hairline, pyjama-style work clothes do little to hide his frail frame, while a pallid appearance has replaced the tan he cultivated as he squandered investor’s money at his villa in Barbados and stayed at the world’s only seven-star hotel, the Burj Al Arab in Dubai.

When O’Brien sees our photographer he flinches and turns away.

There is little sympathy for O’Brien in the prison he has called home since he was jailed for seven years on 14 counts of theft and deception in October 2014 .

“It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who conned his own friends and family,” a source told the Sunday World.

“He’s a quiet one, to be honest he still seems to be in a state of shock. He’s keeps to himself since he was moved to the Training Centre.

“He works hard at his job, preparing food in the officers’ mess in the main prison and cleaning the general area and the toilets.

“He doesn’t cause any problems, but a lot of people wouldn’t have time for him. The ordinary criminal doesn’t swindle or steal from his own, but he did.”

O’Brien’s work in the officers’ mess sees him rubbing shoulders daily with some of the country’s most notorious inmates.

One is John Francis Dolan, who is serving life for the murder of his parents, Gertrude Dolan (56) and her husband John (71), who he stabbed to death at their family home on Ravensdale Road, East Wall, Dublin in June 1999.

It’s all a far cry from the scenes for which O’Brien became famous during the Celtic Tiger years.

At the height of the scam in June 2005, he and his unwitting wife Fiona Nagle hosted 200 people in a marquee at their home in leafy Glenageary, to toast the baptism of son Oscar.

Guests included then education minister Mary Hanafin, RTÉ’s Marty Whelan, VIP publisher Michael O’Doherty and other familiar faces from Dublin’s social scene.

What is now known, however, is the socialite businessman’s Celtic Tiger lifestyle had been built on the deception of clients and a multi-million euro pyramid scheme.

During his 2014 trial, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard how O’Brien had for 15 years convinced family business associates and long-standing friends that he was linked to property deals in Paris, Manchester and Hamburg, as well as a shipping insurance scheme.

The deals were all bogus. 

The court heard that the total loss to five victims was €8.5million and that O’Brien owed further amounts to other creditors.

O’Brien told investors that the money would be left sitting in a deposit account in order to demonstrate that he had the financial clout to purchase investment properties and allow him to procure exclusive options on the properties. 

He told them he would flip these deals on for profit and split the proceeds with the investor. Detective Sergeant Martin Griffin told the court that this was all a lie.

The money was used for a myriad of other purposes instead of being held on deposit, he said. Some of it would be used to pay back other investors who had advanced money to O’Brien, a process the detective described as “grooming”.

He said: “This is quintessentially characteristic of a Ponzi scheme.”

Detective Griffin said the fraud involved telling investors: “Give me money. I will retain it in my deposit account. It will not go anywhere else other than to show I have access to the money.”

Detective Griffin told the court that O’Brien knew some of the victims from his days studying economics in Trinity College Dublin. He had known many of them for over two decades and O’Brien and the victims would have attended wedding, Christenings and holidays together over the years.