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faith stealer Fraudster conned five priests into giving her cash by posing as a social worker

'The first time she called to me she was very convincing.... of course I have forgiven her'

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Rebecca O’Leary said she was helping a woman in distress.

Rebecca O’Leary said she was helping a woman in distress.

Rebecca O’Leary said she was helping a woman in distress.

Meet the young mum-of-three who defrauded thousands of euro from a number of priests in two counties over a 12-month period.

Rebecca O'Leary snared five priests in Laois and Wexford by posing as a social worker who needed money to help her clients.

She claimed clients were either in danger of eviction or imprisonment if she didn't get the cash to them.

Her lies resulted in the codded clerics handing over sums ranging from several hundred to several thousand euro.

The Sunday World caught up with the convicted fraudster at her Wexford home on Thursday afternoon.

However, on the subject of her crimes, a soft-spoken O'Leary appeared to have taken a vow of silence.

"I don't want to say anything," the 28-year-old told our reporter.

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Fr Hugh O'Byrne

Fr Hugh O'Byrne

Fr Hugh O'Byrne

Last week, O'Leary secured a seemingly miraculous escape from earthly retribution after she was given suspended sentences in relation to 11 counts of obtaining money by deception from three priests in Co Wexford.

It was the second time she avoided jail for running the con - having previously been given the benefit of the Probation Act for deceiving two priests in Co Laois.

All the frauds dated back to 2015 but sentencing in the cases had been delayed to allow O'Leary pay back a sum of €5,240 to her duped victims.

Sentencing O'Leary to concurrent sentences of six months on each count of fraud, Judge Cormac Quinn suspended the terms of imprisonment after hearing the sum repaid had been accepted as full payment.

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Afterwards, one of the Laois clerics duped by O'Leary, Fr Jim O'Connell, told the Sunday World: "She was very convincing. She rang at first before calling to the parochial house.

"At least I'd say the first time she called to me she was very convincing.

"After that I checked her out with a local social worker and when she contacted me a second time, I knew what she was doing.

"But I have forgiven her - of course I have. Janey Mac, it's not the worst thing that has ever happened to me.

"Sure God help her, I wish her all the luck in the world."

Two of the Wexford priests who were deceived by O'Leary, Fr Hugh O'Byrne and Fr Noel Hartley, are since deceased while the third is still alive.

Previously, Wexford Circuit Criminal Court had been told how O'Leary conned more than €3,000 from Fr Noel Hartley in June 2015.

The charge sheets showed that Fr Hartley was persuaded to part with seven sums ranging from €100 to €2,000 by O'Leary's "fabricated stories of financial difficulties."

The court heard O'Leary often accompanied Fr Hartley to the ATM so he could withdraw the money.

In the case of Monsignor Denis Lennon, the priest was conned into handing over €300 as the defendant purported to be a social worker on dates unknown between May 23, 2015, and June 3, 2015, at 39 Beechlawn, Clonard, Wexford town.

The court was told how, while a garda investigation to determine O'Leary's identity was ongoing in Wexford, an incident occurred in Portlaoise, where she was apprehended by local gardai.

After being notified by their colleagues in Laois, gardai in Wexford contacted Ms O'Leary.

She volunteered information that she was involved in these incidents and co-operated fully with the investigation.

She was arrested and detained when she made full admissions of receiving money from the priests in question.

The incident to which gardai referred was one where O'Leary was caught in the act running a similar scam on the clerics of Co Laois.

A hearing in Portlaoise which dealt with those offences heard how on October 8, 2015, O'Leary went to the parish centre in Portlaoise where she met with Monsignor John Byrne.

She told him that she was a social worker by the name of Emma Murphy and needed €200 for another woman who was in danger of going to prison and that the money would be reimbursed.

The same day she met with the parish priest of Stradbally, Fr Jim O'Connell, again telling him that she was a social worker and required €200 to assist a woman in need.

Two days later she again contacted the parish centre in Portlaoise where this time she said that another woman needed €350 for rent on a house and that the money would be returned when the woman received her social welfare payment.

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Fr Noel Hartley

Fr Noel Hartley

Fr Noel Hartley

Garda Jerry Dillon said that a number of days later Ms O'Leary rang the parish priest at Ferrybank in Wexford, again informing him that she was a social worker and requesting financial assistance for a woman who was in distress.

He said by this time parish priests had alerted each other about the incidents after they became suspicious.

The priest in Ferrybank agreed to meet with Ms O'Leary.

When she arrived at his house gardaí were present and arrested her.

At her sentencing hearing, defence solicitor Josephine Fitzpatrick said the money her client has taken was spent on her home and on her three young daughters aged from eight months to four years.

She said Ms O'Leary was taking full responsibility for her actions.

"It was a foolish escapade. When she got the money the first time it just snowballed from there. She wants to publicly apologise to the two priests.

"It was very mean, and she is deeply ashamed of what she did. She has no drug or drink issues. It was simply opportunistic," said Ms Fitzpatrick.

O'Leary was given the benefit of the Probation Act in connection with her deceptions in Co Laois meaning, somewhat miraculously, she hasn't spent a day in prison over her mean-spirited cons.

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