Chip on shoulder | 

Chip shop owner who was unwitting 'patsy' for money launderers almost lost everything

Businessman warns others after falling for scammer who used his bank account to launder €24,000 in cash

Cosimo Donatella

Patrick O'Connell

AN UNWITTING chip-shop owner has told how he lost his business and could have ended up in jail after being used as a 'patsy' by money-laundering criminals.

Cosimo Donatella of Cregboy, Claregalway also told the Sunday World how he is only now seeing the end of a period of 'absolute hell' after he was given a community service order in court for "reckless" conduct that saw him duped in a scam that cost another business €24,000.

Galway Circuit Court heard how a fraudster posed as being interested in investing in Cosimo's struggling takeaway business - only to instead use his account details to steal from another business and then pressurise the 54-year-old to 'return' the money.

Cosimo was later charged with a money laundering offence of converting, transferring, handling, acquiring, possessing or using property while knowing or being "reckless as to whether or not" it was the proceeds of crime.

Handing down an order of 120 hours of community service in lieu of 18 months in prison, Judge Brian O'Callaghan said that this was clearly a case of a man being "reckless" in providing his bank details to a third party, and that there was "no intention" by him to defraud anyone.

Cosimo Donatella of Cregboy, Claregalway, Co Galway speaks with Pat O Connell after receiving a community service order

Speaking with the Sunday World this week, Cosimo - who formerly ran a Chipmongers outlet in Cavan - said he wanted to warn other people not to get caught in the manner he had.

"This is happening to too many people," he said. "I would just warn other people not to accept any money into their accounts and if they do, the lesson I learned is, if you have any doubts, go to the police. It's very easy to get caught."

Asked how he had been approached, Cosimo told us the fraudster said he had been sent to them at the Cavan chipper "by a friend of a friend of a friend."

Cosimo Donatella of Cregboy, Claregalway, Co Galway

"He came to work with us," Cosimo said. "He said he had been living in Ireland for many years working in takeaways and he had saved some money. So we gave him a trial to work and he seemed to be working away normally for two or three days.

"And then he said he would like to invest. He was only supposed to transfer €5,000 but then, when he transferred the money, it was like €24,000 that landed in the bank.

"I challenged him and said I don't need €24,000. But he said he had transferred the money so now I had to take it out."

Cosimo said he had his own business at the time but it was going badly so he needed to try and start again and that was why he had wanted the €5,000 investment.

"I wanted to go my own way and I didn't need a lot of money for that.

"But he took all the money back."

The moment that Cosimo realised he had been used a 'patsy' came when he received a letter from the bank informing him that the transaction was under investigation.

"They said it was a dodgy transfer and then my bank account was frozen," he said. "So, we had to close down the business because we didn't have any cash to go our own way. We couldn't even print out menus. I had to go out and get a job working for other people.

"It was devastating."

Asked about Judge O'Callaghan's acceptance last week that he had been an unwitting victim or patsy, Cosimo said: "I was happy that I was believed.

"I have a family, I have kids and being sent to jail would have meant financial difficulties for them - even worse than what I'm having at the moment. Even the police saw that I wasn't part of this.

"Unfortunately, this guy, he was a professional. I tried to find him after through people that I know but no-one has ever heard of him.

"I don't even know if the name he gave me was real. After this happened, I learned from the police that this is a big scam that is going on everywhere.

"But normally it's done online. Even the judge said last week it was unusual that in this case they used a person."

At last week's sitting, details were given by Detective Alan Jones of how in November 2018 the Cloverhill company Broderick Brothers paid €24,165.94 into what they thought was the account of a building company.

Instead the money was diverted by the scammers into Cosimo's trading account.

After Cosimo was tracked down by detectives, he told them after the money had landed in his account, the relationship with the 'investor' had broken down and he came under pressure to return the money. None of this money was ever recovered.

Detective Jones told the court that Cosimo was fully co-operative and he accepted that he had no involvement in the email scam that led to the money being diverted.

A report by the probation services said that Cosimo, who had brought €2,500 to court to be handed over to the victims of the scam, had essentially been "duped."

Judge O'Callaghan said this scam, which involved handing over bank details to a third party, "has all the characteristics of being duped online".

"Criminals rely on our gullibility and recklessness to let them in the door," the judge warned, which is what he said had clearly happened here.

Asked whether he still hopes the fraudster will one day be caught and face jail for his crimes, Cosimo told us: "I'd love that …. I'd love it. I'd love to hit him a couple of slaps as well.

"This had been going on for three years. When the judge said he would give me the community service, it was a huge relief because it means I can finally plan my life again.

"During this time, my passport was taken away so I couldn't go see my mother. I couldn't even open a bank account without it. It's a nightmare - it destroyed my life!

"All because I was trying to do something for myself and my family for the future! Maybe I was reckless, as the judge said, for trusting somebody like that. But it looked legit … it wasn't something online … he did this in person."

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