TWO Polish nationals who fraudulently collected dole payments for a couple who returned to their homeland have been left to ‘hang out to dry’ by the couple according to the defendant’s solicitor.
Karol Makuch (24) of 25 Grattan Avenue, Claremorris, and Barbara Gadec (29) of 13 Grattan Avenue, Claremorris appeared before last week’s sitting of Castlebar Circuit Court where they were appealing a prison sentence handed down to them in the District Court. The pair had been jailed for six months each by Judge Mary Devins last September after they collected over €5,000 for Michael and Bernadetta Lebec, who had returned to Poland prior to the offences.
Michael Keane, solicitor for the two defendants said his clients were told the couple had to return to Poland for family problems and they asked them to collect their dole. He said his clients collected the dole and every four weeks the Lebecs would fly back to Ireland and collect their money in exchange for some duty-free cigarettes.
When asked by Judge Thomas E O’Donnell if the Lebecs were being investigated or could contribute to refund the state, Mr Keane said they had ‘gone to ground’ and were not answering his clients’ calls, adding they were left to ‘hang out to dry’ by the Lebecs.
Sergeant Helena Hastings explained that the gardaí were contacted by social welfare inspector Tony Gavin in Claremorris who was suspicious of people collecting social welfare and claiming to be Michael and Bernadetta Lebec.
She said that following an investigation, Barbara Gadec admitted collecting €2,912.10 for Bernadetta Lebec who had returned to Poland. She said that Michael Lebec had approached Karol Makuch to collect his dole while he was away and he collected €2,419.50.
Mr Keane said Barbara Gadec - a mother of two - was an acquaintance of Bernadetta Lebec who persuaded her to get involved in the venture.
In relation to Mr Makuch, he said that it would have been very easy for him to go to Knock Airport and leave the country but he had chosen to live in Ireland.
Judge O’Donnell said this was a bizarre case and while he accepted the naivety of it, he said the defendants had taken money they were not entitled to and the real victim was the state and the taxpayers.
He adjourned sentencing in Mrs Gadec’s case for 12 months to allow her to refund the money and lifted the prison sentence for Mr Makuch after he refunded the €2,419.50 and gave him the benefit of the Probation Act.