A Co Tyrone husband and wife who operated Northern Ireland's largest ever tax scam were warned yesterday not to be “under any illusion” that they would not be jailed.
The warning came from Belfast Crown Court judge Mr Justice Hart after hearing that Patrick Gerry Small and his wife Mary have cost the taxman over £4.5m in a 17 year period.
The court was told that the couple siphoned off cash and cheques from their Grey Stone Builders supply business and salted the money away in undeclared bank accounts both in the Isle of Man and here.
The Smalls, who at one stage alleged their earnings amounted to less than £30,000 and even claimed family tax credits to get by, used their ill-gotten gains to build 28 homes throughout Northern Ireland.
That included their 12,000sq ft home, a palatial mansion, at Cullenramer Road, Dungannon, which the couple, married for 32 years, had shared with their three children.
Prosecuting QC Stephen Fowler revealed that when tax-men raided the house they uncovered nearly half a million pounds in cash in a safe.
He added that Mrs Small, as part of her plea to three charges of cheating Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise and nine charges of false accounting, has agreed to repay by way of compensation and confiscation just under £2m.
But Mr Fowler revealed as far as Mr Small is concerned, the prosecution is to apply for a court order to force him to make a similar payment.
He said that, while Small pleaded guilty only to two charges of cheating, it was the prosecution case that both were partners and both gained equally from their criminal conduct.
However, their lawyers, who clashed over who actually did what and when, revealed that their “marriage is over” and they are “to split”.
Defence QC James Gallagher, who said Small had agreed to pay just over £700,000 to the VAT man, and that his “role was predominantly one of supervision and particularly running of the business”.
Mr Gallagher added that Small had “very little involvement” and had little detail “of any bookkeeping”.
The lawyer said it was also significant that the authorities “have not pressed any of the numerous charges of false accounting against Mr Small”.
Defence QC Mark Horner countered by claiming that Mrs Small's pleas were made on the basis that they were equally guilty.
“The suggestion that Mary was somehow the brains of this criminal enterprise and Gerry Small her cat’s paw, is both fanciful and devoid of any factual basis,” said Mr Horner.
The lawyer said that a contrite remorseful and deeply ashamed Mrs Small had co-operated fully with the authorities, while the court might feel her husband had tried to manipulate the system “in a devious and despicable way”.
The couple will be sentenced within the fortnight.
While Mrs Small was released on continuing bail, her husband, due to undergo surgery on Tuesday, was remanded into custody.