Man ‘tricked’ in money laundering offense gets community service

A money laundering case in Galway Circuit Court has highlighted how scammers are using patsies for them as a business owner was convicted for his unwitting participation in a scam on another business.

Cosimo Donatella of Cregboy, Claregalway has been handed a community service order for ‘reckless’ driving which led to him being duped into a scam which cost a company over €24,000.

A fraudster posed as being interested in investing in his business and used those account details to steal from another business, then tricked him into ‘returning’ the money.

He was charged with a money laundering offense for converting, transferring, handling, acquiring, possessing or using property while knowing or being “reckless as to whether or not it was” the proceeds of the crime.

Judge Brian O’Callaghan said it was clearly a case of a ‘reckless’ man providing his bank details to a third party, and that there was ‘no intention’ on his part to defraud anyone.

The 54-year-old was co-owner of a struggling takeaway business and had been looking to invest in plans to open a new chipper.

Detective Alan Jones told the court that in November 2018 Cloverhill Broderick Brothers paid €24,165.94 into what they believed was the account of a construction company which had carried out work for them.

Unbeknownst to them, email accounts had been hacked and a whole different set of bank details had been provided to them.

It was the trading account of Donatella, who had given details of her business account to a potential investor.

He told Gardaí that a Romanian had offered to invest €5,000 in the new venture, but more than €24,000 had appeared in his account.

When questioned by Gardaí, he said the relationship with his potential investor had broken down and he had been pressured to ‘return’ the money in his account.

On November 8, he withdrew €10,000 from the account, the balance being withdrawn the next day, and gave it to this third party heard by the court.

None of these funds have ever been recovered. Detective Jones said he met Donatella by appointment on March 6, 2019 for an interview.

He said the man was fully cooperative and agreed with the defense attorney that it was accepted he had no involvement in the email scam.

Mr Brendan Browne BL, for the defence, said there was one party at a loss in this case, and another who had gained financially, and his client ‘unfortunately ended up at the epicenter’ of the case.

He added that the early guilty plea, entered on July 20 last year, had been of huge benefit in what can be complicated financial matters.

A Probation Services report said he was essentially “duped” into the matter and that Donatella and her business partner were duped by this scammer.

Judge O’Callghan pointed this out and said they had both been duped by a scammer but Mr Donatella was the one in court as he was the one responsible for the account.

The defense had brought €2,500 into court to be paid to the injured party, which Mr Browne admitted was a “paltry” amount compared to what they lost.

But he said it was a very large sum for his client compared to his own financial means.

Judge O’Callaghan said the scam, which involved passing bank details to a third party, “has all the hallmarks of an online scam”.

“The criminals rely on our gullibility and our recklessness to let them in,” the judge warned, which he says clearly happened here.

Although there was clear harm done to the business which lost more than €24,000, the judge said the defendant’s “moral culpability” was low.

The judge ordered the defendant to perform 120 hours of community service instead of an 18-month prison sentence.

Jill E. Washington