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Woman jailed for conning priest out of €300

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Mother of five pretended she needed money to escape abusive husband

A WOMAN who deceived a priest into giving her €300 on the pretence that she needed to get away from her abusive husband was jailed for 12 months.
Judge Mary Devins told Margaret Sweeney (33) of 48 Elm Park, Claremorris, that she had committed a despicable and disgraceful act against a ‘decent, honourable man’ before sentencing her at last week’s sitting of Castlebar District Court.
Inspector Dermot Butler explained that Mrs Sweeney, a mother five children, made contact with a parish priest on May 20, 2016, and explained that she was from Sligo and was trying to escape her abusive husband.
She met the priest in a café in Claremorris and convinced him to hand over €300 for a deposit for accommodation in Galway. Insp Butler said the claim was false and that Mrs Sweeney lives in a house in Claremorris, and that when she was arrested, her husband came to the garda station to hand back the money.

‘Mean and nasty’
The court heard that the offence took place while Mrs Sweeney was serving a suspended sentence, and that she has previous convictions for theft, including one for collecting money without a permit.
Ms Cathy McDarby, solicitor for the defendant, said her client had committed a particularly mean and nasty crime against a decent person who was trying to help. She said that Mrs Sweeney was desperate at the time, as she had run up debts after borrowing money for her daughter’s confirmation.  
Ms McDarby said that the €300 had been repaid and that her client had €200 to give the priest to donate to charity. She asked Judge Devins to be lenient when sentencing.
Judge Devins pointed out that Ms Sweeney’s previous convictions were all to do with deceit. She added that she found it fascinating that Ms Sweeney took the time to think up a ruse to deceive a priest, saying it was a shame she couldn’t dedicate the time to something legal and worthwhile.

‘Warped’
Ms McDarby said her client was a bright lady, but that her husband was a recovering alcoholic and she would not have a lot of money.
Judge Devins described the crime as ‘the lowest of the low’, and said that Ms Sweeney had a ‘warped mentality’ that she cannot understand.
She sentenced her to 12 months’ imprisonment with the final four months suspended on the condition she pays €600 to the priest on or before July 17. Ms Sweeney was also fined €500. Recognisances was set in the event of an appeal against the severity of the sentence.

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