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Sligo handyman who took pensioners’ money for repairs he never carried out is jailed

The court heard Martin Sweeney had preyed on vulnerable elderly people, some of whom were aged in their eighties and living alone

Martin Sweeney.

Emma GallagherSligo Champion

A 42 year old man who was found guilty by a jury at Sligo Circuit Court of stealing cash from pensioners to carry out odd jobs which he failed to do has been jailed by Judge Keenan Johnson for two years.

Martin Joseph Sweeney of Cloonacool, Tubbercurry was found guilty in October 2022 of the offences which took place from June 25, 2019 to January 20, 2020.

The court heard the amounts ranged from €250 to €1,000 and the defendant had called to the elderly people’s homes under the pretence of carrying out work such as painting and maintenance and took money for these works which he did not fulfil.

Judge Keenan Johnson, in sentencing, said Sweeney had preyed on these vulnerable, elderly people, some of whom were aged in their eighties and living alone.

Sweeney was charged with stealing cash to the value of €250 from Robert Vandevelst at Dromore West, Co Sligo on June 25th 2019, stealing €600 in cash from Christopher Burns at Roughan, Sooey on July 27th 2019, stealing cash to the value of €500 from William O’Dowd on October 25th 2019 at Belville, Dromore West, stealing €450 the property of Olive Carter at Ballybeg, Ransboro on November 29th 2019, stealing kitchen fittings and furnishings valued at €500 the property of Margaret Lynott at Parke, Kilglass on January 9th 2020 and stealing cash to the value of €1,000 the property of Brendan Queenan at Castletown, Easkey on January 18th and 20th 2020.

He was also charged with dishonestly inducing Anita Moss for painting and decorating services with the intention of making gain at Timpaun, Arigna, Co Roscommon on September 20th 2019 and also stealing €200 in cash the property of Anita Moss.

Sweeney was also charged with stealing diesel valued at €20.03 from Feeney’s Petrol Station, Dromore West on December 9th 2019 and also diesel worth €15.01 from the same petrol station on December 11th 2019, the court heard.

The accused was also charged with making off without payment from Riverside B&B, Charlestown, Co Mayo after obtaining goods and services valued at €113.15.

He had previously received a two month prison sentence for making off without payment of €120 at Kilronan Castle, Ballyfarnon by Judge Francis Comerford, which was reactivated by Judge Johnson.

Mr Leo Mulrooney BL prosecuting with Ms Elisa McHugh, State Solicitor said Mr Vandevelst was 70 years old and living alone. Sweeney came to his house and offered to do painting and clean his gutters. He took a deposit of €250 but didn’t do the work.

Mr Burns was 85 years old and living alone at the time. Sweeney called giving the name Martin Kelly. He paid him €600 as a deposit. Sweeney did a small bit of work but didn’t return.

Ms Lynott was 71 years old at the time and had advertised property for sale which Sweeney took and the amount involved was €500. On two occasions, Mr Queenan had €500 stole from him. He was 69 at the time and had agreed with Sweeney for him to do power washing and paining.

He initially paid a deposit of €500 and Sweeney said he needed more money and he gave him €500 more. Mr Mulrooney outlined that in relation to the petrol station Sweeney didn’t pay for fuel on two occasions.

Witness statements were read out including from Mr Vandevelst. He said he was vulnerable and handed over money. He was fooled by Sweeney and very embarrassed. He said when he’s with people now he is more cautious.

Mr Burns, a pensioner, said in his statement he was at a loss of €600 and he was stressed out and angry that the money was gone from him. Mr Queenan said he and his wife’s lives had changed forever after Sweeney took €1,000 with the promise of powerwashing.

He found it very hard to trust letting strangers into his house and what the man had done had left him mentally scarred.

Mr Mulrooney outlined the accused had 13 previous convictions for theft, 15 for road traffic and three for Public Order.

The B&B in Charlestown was at a loss of €113.15 after Sweeney booked in under the name of Martin Tansey for four nights. He stayed one night and had food and drink. Gardaí identified him through the vehicle he used.

Mr Mulrooney said in relation to the charges relating to Ms Anita Moss, she was a German national who lives alone in Arigna. On September 20th 2019 Sweeney called to her home at 11:30am offering powerwashing and painting. She paid him €1,000.

Sweeney claimed he was going to give back €200 when he heard her husband was in a nursing home, but he didn’t. She left the money down but he took it. He painted one wall and came back with another person and said he had to go and get paint but never came back.

Mrs Moss’ Victim Impact Statement said she was a pensioner and widow who had been scammed by a workman who she trusted. He got a lot of money from her and she tried to contact him but it was in vein.

She said she has lost complete trust in workmen and the loss of €1,000 was a huge amount of money. Her whole life has changed and she has to budget and she hopes she gets compensated for her loss.

Mr Pat O’Sullivan BL instructed by Tony McLynn solicitors said his client had a longstanding problem with alcohol and his offending was typical with someone with a serious problem with alcohol. He said he does accept he took deposits it was not his intention of doing individuals out of money.

Judge Johnson said he committed the Sligo offences while on bail. He said he has a very cavalier attitude towards the judicial process. He said all of the elderly people involved were out of substantial amounts of money.

He said Sweeney took advantage of them and had no intention to carry out the work. He was convicted on five counts in Sligo and a similar offence involving Ms Moss in Roscommon.

Judge Johnson said the aggravating factors were the persistency in the offending against elderly people living on their own which has an effect on them. Sweeney made no effort to make recompense. He had a significant record of previous convictions and added the mitigating factors were ‘very few’.

He said the headline sentence was five years in prison which he was prepared to reduce to four years suspended for two years for a period of five years and Sweeney entered a bond to keep the peace and be under the supervision of the Probation Service and refrain from consumption of alcohol and engage in treatment programme.

He ordered him to pay €10,000 by way of compensation divided between the parties.

A one year concurrent term was imposed on the making off without payment charge and two years concurrent on the charge relating to Ms Moss. He ordered he have no contact with any victim.

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