DEFENCE SOLICITOR Michael Keane.
Judge jails Polish welfare cheats who ‘conspired against the Irish people’
A man and a woman, both Polish and both living in Claremorris, have been sentenced to three months’ imprisonment each for fraudulent social welfare claims of €2,419 and €1,713 respectively last year.
In two separate cases at last week’s sitting in Castlebar District Court, Judge Mary Devins heard how Karol Makuch (23) of 25 Grattan Avenue, Claremorris, and Barbara Gadec (29) of 13 Grattan Avenue, Claremorris, had separately misappropriated large sums of social welfare payments.
Judge Mary Devins heard that Makuch and Gadec did this by using the welfare cards of Michael and Bernadetta Lebec, who had returned to Poland prior to the offences for family reasons.
Garda Donal Raftery of Claremorris Garda Station told the court that on August 8 last he called to Ballindine Post Office after he was contacted by social welfare inspector Tony Gavin. Mr Gavin had reported suspicious collections by a woman using a welfare card belonging to Bernadetta Lebec.
Garda Raftery viewed CCTV footage of the woman whom he recognised as Barbara Gadec. While in the post office, Garda Raftery observed Gadec entering the post office and collecting a total of €171.30 on ten occasions under the name of Bernadetta Lebec. Gadec had misappropriated €1,713 in total.
Gadec said that after fellow Polish natives Michael and Bernadetta Lebec returned to Poland for family reasons, she was approached and asked if she would collect the money on a weekly basis. While she did this, the couple returned on a monthly basis to sign on.
Gadec, a mother of two, insisted all she received in exchange for her assistance from the Lebec’s was a few packets of duty-free cigarettes. She said there was a good relationship between the Polish in the area and she had just been helping them out.
Solicitor Michael Keane described Gadec as a family woman who had shown ‘naivety and stupidity’. “I would acknowledge that rather than believe that she was involved in a criminal conspiracy,” he said.
A bemused Judge Devins replied, “Of course it’s a criminal conspiracy; it’s a criminal conspiracy against the people of the Republic of Ireland.”
In a separate case which was again linked to Michael and Bernadetta Lebec, Karol Makuch of 25 Grattan Avenue, Convent Road, Claremorris, appeared on similar charges arising out of fraudulently claiming €2,419, this time with Michael Lebec’s card.
Garda Raftery told the court he also viewed CCTV footage on August 8 last at Ballindine Post Office of Makuch claiming welfare payments. The defendant later admitted illegitimately claiming the money over a 15-week period.
Garda Donal Raftery said that he did not recognise Makuch on CCTV footage. However, he arrested him after a period of surveillance outside the post office the following week.
Solicitor Michael Keane said Makuch was 23-year-old kitchen porter and who had been in Ireland for three years and had never come to the attention of the Gardaí before.
Defending his two clients, solicitor Michael Keane told Judge Devins that both Gadec and Makuch were part of a large ex-pat community who all helped each other out as best they could.
Mr Keane said Gadec and Makuch had pleaded guilty at the very first opportunity and both individuals had subsequently repaid both sums of money. He added, “They got suckered into this by a couple who took advantage of their better nature. The couple are the real culprits. It’s almost like the drugs trade, except they’re the mules but now they’re in the firing line.”
Judge Devins intimated she had little sympathy for their situation. “You almost have me in tears here. You’re painting a picture akin to that of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ when you’re describing these Polish ex-pats.”
Mr Keane continued, “Who knows better than the Irish about a self-help group. Of course it’s wrong but it’s very prevalent.” Judge Devins enquired, “Are you suggesting that the Irish community are doing this in other countries?” Mr Keane replied that the practice is ‘rampant’ in every country in the world. “Every government knows it’s rampant,” he said.
Passing judgement Judge Devins acknowledged what she described as an impassioned plea from Mr Keane. She added, “I don’t think it’s entirely well-founded. For a start these emigrants are not living in tenements with no light, no electricity and no running water. These people have benefitted and have been shown respect by the Republic of Ireland. Ms Gadek and Mr Makuch have not returned or given back that respect.”
Judge Devins sentenced Gadec and Makuch to six months in prison each, suspending the final three months for a period of twelve months. Recognisance in the event of an appeal was fixed at €2,400 for both parties, with independent surety fixed at €300.