A FOOTBALL fraudster whose scams led to devastated families being stranded outside the stadiums of their heroes has once again admitted to being a thief.
Carl McGookin pleaded guilty at Belfast Magistrates Court to fleecing the same victim on two occasions last year, promising him tickets for big Liverpool games in return for cash.
But after taking the money he never showed up, leaving the father and his family helpless outside Anfield and seriously out of pocket.
The 29-year-old conman was due to be sentenced last Friday for two counts of fraud by false representation, but because of the coronavirus crisis the case has been rescheduled.
That means McGookin, who has multiple theft and fraud convictions, has managed to avoid prison yet again.
He is currently holed up in a house at the Seahaven development in the village of Portavogie on the Ards Peninsula.
McGookin is being pursued by other families who say they too have been the victims of his football ticket scams.
He is also alleged to have used the business account of a Newtownards bar in which he worked as a chef to line his own pockets.
After Sunday Life lifted the lid on his rackets last month the shameless criminal took to social media to threaten those complaining about him with legal action.
McGookin even referred some of his victims to a Belfast solicitors firm, claiming that they were acting on his behalf.
One told us: "When the story appeared in Sunday Life it was widely shared on Facebook and some victims tagged McGookin in. He had the cheek to respond with threats of legal action.
"The fella has no shame, first of all he rips us off then he says he will take us to court if we complain."
In 2017 McGookin appeared at Newtownards Magistrates Court to admit a litany of crimes including assault, phone scams, fraud, breaching court orders and leaving a Belfast hotel without paying an £800 bill.
His offences also included dishonestly obtaining money for tickets for a Carl Frampton fight in Las Vegas in January 2017. McGookin escaped with a five-month suspended jail sentence after a defence lawyer said the offences were committed while "in the throes of a gambling addiction".
In the past two weeks several of his other victims have contacted this newspaper to reveal how they had been ripped off.
One man told how his primary school son was left in tears outside Anfield when promised tickets to Liverpool's victory over West Ham in February were not handed over.
He said: "Losing the money is bad enough, but what's worse is having to explain to your heartbroken kids that they had travelled all that way to not be able to go to the match."
A Co Down gym owner has also previously accused McGookin of leaving him penniless before Christmas and unable to buy his children presents.
Another man who claims to have fallen victim to McGookin's cruel football tickets scam revealed: "I paid him £250 for two dugout hospitality tickets for Liverpool games against Southampton and Crystal Palace. He hasn't refunded me my money and will not reply or answer my calls."