Scam woman warned to expect jail sentence as judge orders arrest of missing co-accused
A judge has told a woman who, along with her partner, scammed a vulnerable man out of thousands of pounds to prepare to go to prison.
The case of Julie Larkin (39) of Barrack Street, Coalisland, and Peter McDonagh (49) of Fox Street, Portadown, was before Dungannon Crown Court, involving multiple counts of fraud.
Larkin appeared alone in the dock for sentencing having been abandoned by her partner McDonagh, who fled mid-trial.
Between May 2013 and March 2014 they conned the victim out of £18,000 using aliases and fictitious lawyers supposedly handling a deceased uncle's estate.
Posing as brother and sister, they evoked sympathy from the victim with stories of hardship, distress and even a cancer diagnosis.
At one point, Larkin claimed McDonagh had died, later telling the victim this was untrue and that she had been lied to by the so-called lawyers. The pair asked for funds with the promise of repayment when the mysterious but non-existent inheritance came through.
They both originally denied all charges and went on trial in March, but Larkin was rearraigned and admitted nine charges.
McDonagh went on trial in April, but the jury was discharged after he approached a juror proclaiming his innocence.
He was remanded in custody while a third jury was sworn and only released at the end of the first day having been warned to speak to no-one.
But the drama continued when McDonagh absconded just as he was about to take the witness stand.
The trial continued in his absence with the jury returning guilty verdicts.
The case was adjourned for both defendants to be sentenced, and on return Larkin stood alone in the dock.
Her defence counsel described the scam as "not the most sophisticated" and stressed that Larkin had accepted her guilt.
But Judge Neill Rafferty said Larkin had played an active role and described her as having been used as "bait". "If she was a worm on a hook, she was a fairly active worm," the judge said.
Urging leniency, a defence lawyer told the court that Larkin is a mother of three children, one of whom is to sit exams shortly.
Turning to McDonagh, defence counsel accepted his client is still at large.
Judge Rafferty decided to adjourn sentencing until next month, primarily to allow Larkin's son to complete his exams.
McDonagh will also be sentenced in his absence at the same time. Judge Rafferty issued a warrant for his arrest.
Turning to Larkin, the judge said: "I am absolutely satisfied you played your role in full, meaningfully conning [the victim] out of a substantial sum of money.
"I am told you are the mother of three children. You were the mother of those children when you carried out these offences. Serious criminality has consequences."
Releasing her on bail, Judge Rafferty warned: "You should prepare yourself for custody."