Fraudster accountant spared jail over £10k scam
An accountant who admitted fraudulently claiming and receiving almost £10,000 in housing benefits for nine flats that did not exist has been spared a prison sentence.
James Joseph Heaney, from Spruce Meadows in the Buncrana Road area of Londonderry, was sentenced to 200 hours of community service at the city's Crown Court yesterday.
A hearing was told the defendant committed the offences at the same time as conducting VAT and credit card frauds worth almost £60,000.
For those offences the 46-year-old was last October jailed for 12 months and is on licence until next October.
A Public Prosecution Service (PPS) barrister said Heaney's latest offending was discovered by accident after police called at the Northern Ireland Housing Executive offices at Richmond Chambers in the centre of Derry to investigate am unrelated matter.
Heaney filled in housing benefit forms in other people's names for nine flats at Dacre Terrace, and the benefits were paid into his personal account.
The prosecutor said the Dacre Terrace property, which is owned by another man, contained only office units and had no residential accommodation. Judge Philip Babington also told the court that when Heaney was interviewed by the police about his offending, he tried to blame other people - including the innocent owner of a house at De Burgh Terrace in the city.
The judge said that the resident "must have gotten a shock when the police knocked at his front door".
He also explained how Heaney had pretended to live at the non-existent flats, securing housing benefits in return.
The prosecution barrister said the PPS had considered taking a case against the people named on Heaney's application forms, but there was insufficient evidence to do so.
He added that among the people the defendant blamed for what he called a mix-up was a man in Carndonagh, Co Donegal, and even his own son.
Defence barrister Dean Mooney said Heaney, who is still running his accountancy company, committed the crimes after the collapse of his recycling business.
"When that failed he was declared bankrupt in 2010," he explained. "The financial wolves were at his door.
"It was then that he started on a desperate and dishonest course of offending which led him to commit a series of dishonesty offences to try to steady his financial ship."
Mr Mooney claimed Heaney was remorseful and wanted to atone for his offending.
He told how his client had already repaid £20,000 in relation to his initial offending and had entered into a £400 per month repayment scheme with the Housing Executive.
Judge Babington said Heaney's offending was planned and pre-meditated, but took into consideration his early guilty pleas and the impact last October's jail sentence had on him and on his family members.
He added that he also took into consideration Heaney's repayment schedule with the Housing Executive.