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Pure mule Ireland's oldest money launderer (76) says 'I don't want to go to jail'

"I've never been in trouble and I'd never used this bloody internet before"

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76-year-old James O’Rourke speaking to our man after pleading guilty to money-laudering.

76-year-old James O’Rourke speaking to our man after pleading guilty to money-laudering.

76-year-old James O’Rourke speaking to our man after pleading guilty to money-laudering.

Meet the 76-year-old who is now Ireland's oldest known "money-launderer."

Pensioner James O'Rourke of Graball Bay, Crosshaven, Co. Cork, this week pleaded guilty to two counts of money-laundering - after he allowed his bank accounts to be used by fraudsters in a €120,000 invoice redirect scam.

Speaking with the Sunday World on Friday, O'Rourke, who has no previous convictions and who is now awaiting sentence, said: "I've experienced a lot of things in life and maybe this is just one more to experience - prison."

Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard this week that O'Rourke had already signed guilty pleas to charges relating to three transactions totalling €121,000 in his Bank of Ireland and AIB accounts.

The court was told he was lured into a Facebook friendship and matters proceeded from there.

A sum of €52,000 was sent from Sweden to the defendant's Bank of Ireland account in April 2020, while two further sums of €29,000 and €40,000 were sent from France to his AIB account.

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James O’Rourke talked to our man about his case.

James O’Rourke talked to our man about his case.

James O’Rourke talked to our man about his case.

The cash in question was later discovered to have come from companies in those countries that had been targeted in an 'invoice redirect scam'.

The money from Sweden was sent onto a Lithuanian bank account, while the money from France - less €1,570 O'Rourke had withdrawn from himself - was also moved onwards.

Defence barrister Brian Leahy said O'Rourke became "involved in this scam via Facebook."

He invested €2,000 in a programme to feed homeless people in Nigeria, having been told he would treble his investment and he would get €6,000 back. He did this to supplement a meagre pension.

"He would not be hugely savvy with the internet and he was sucked into a Facebook friendship and believed there was easy money to be made," Mr Leahy told the court.

Speaking with the Sunday World on Friday, O'Rourke said he had been the victim of a scam.

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"It was definitely a scam, but I'm here," he said, "and the people who scammed me aren't.

"I didn't do anything with a criminal purpose in mind.

"I had already invested in what they said was a contract for catering.

"One of them [the people involved] was American and one was Nigerian.

"And it turned out there wasn't any contract … but I didn't know. I was totally innocent of that.

"And then they said 'when the money comes in, you have to send it on to our bank because we can't trust the banks in Nigeria. Take out your premium.'

"I had lost €2,000, so this was a repayment as far as I was concerned.

"And then the bank closed on me and that was it.

"All of this was said in the court, but that's what happened."

Asked about the possible consequences he may face, O'Rourke said: "I am worried.

"Of course I'm worried because I'm 76 years old. I don't want to be going to jail now.

"I've never been in trouble and I'd never used this bloody internet before.

"It was all new, but I'd nothing else to do after I was taken sick.

"Three years ago I had heart failure and, you know, you just take up something - and for me it was Facebook and all that."

Asked whether the Facebook friendship, the court heard, he had been 'sucked' into was romantic in nature, O'Rourke gave an exasperated laugh.

"I wouldn't say lured. It was just a friendship," he said.

"It started off just talking.

"There was nothing sexual or romantic about it.

"It was just a friendship while I was sick."

O'Rourke told the Sunday World he understands that he looked "so naïve" that people might find it hard to believe "because in general people are more aware of the internet and know not to get involved in these things".

"But I knew these people four years … I had no reason not to trust them," he said.

"I knew one of them four years [the American woman] and then the other guy came into it later on because she went to Africa to study cuisine … she was into catering.

"And that's when I was dragged into the catering thing … I was asked if I'd like to invest.

"And when you're out of work, you've had heart failure and there is nothing there, you think if you could get a small bit of an income to supplement it, to supplement your pension, then why not?

"It was innocent. If I said to you I need to send you money because the banks over there are total crap and will take the money, and they [the banks] are notorious over there, and you take out your premium, well … that's what happened.

"And that's what I did.

"I didn't take out €10,000, I could have taken out €20,000, but I didn't.

"I only wanted my money back because I was fed up with it all.

"I had paid the money out before I was sick, and after I was sick I wanted my money back because we had nothing.

"All we had was the pension and I wanted my money back."

"This is my only offence … I had a speeding offence … but I guess that's life.

"I've experienced a lot of things in life and maybe this is just one more to experience … in prison."

At the conclusion of last week's hearing, Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin addressed the €1,570 O'Rourke had withdrawn from the funds sent from France and also defence barrister Brian Leahy's assertion that he his client was not "hugely savvy with the internet, had been sucked into a Facebook friendship and believed there was easy money to be made".

The judge remarked: "That would be alright for a 15-year-old to say something like that, but your lad is 75 years old.

Mr Leahy said someone could get caught up in something like this for a variety of reasons. Judge Ó Donnabháin said greed would be one reason.

Referring to the €1,500 benefit which the defendant derived from the money-laundering, the judge said O'Rourke would have to attend to that before sentencing this week.

Gardaí have issued repeated warnings to public about the dangers of acting as a 'money mule' for invoice redirect scammers.

A money mule is someone who allows others to use their bank accounts and about 90 per cent of money mule transactions are linked to cybercrime.

The problem is now becoming so widespread that in May, gardaí said parents need to educate their children not to act as money mules, teachers need to be alert to the people in their classes recruiting money mules, and students need to know how they will destroy their future if they act as a money mule.

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