Chronic gambler who used brother’s name to steal €15,000 in social welfare payments avoids prison
A “chronic gambler” who stole over €15,000 in social welfare payments while using his brother’s name has received a fully suspended sentence.
Bernard Norton (49) simultaneously claimed Jobseekers Allowance validly in his own name and falsely in his brother’s name over a two-year period.
He has previously been convicted for stealing over €200,000 from his employer between 2001 and 2002 and for stealing approximately €35,000 from another employer in 2016.
Norton of Newrath View, Kells, Co Meath pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to six sample counts of theft at Killinard Post Office, Tallaght, Dublin, on dates between November 25, 2013 and June 30, 2015.
He also pleaded guilty to deception at the same address on dates between November 19, 2013 and June 30, 2016.
Garda Francis Hogan told Aideen Collard BL, prosecuting, that during the period between 2013 and 2015, Norton was validly claiming Jobseekers Allowance in his own name.
Gda Hogan said Norton was simultaneously also claiming Jobseekers Allowance in the name of Robert Norton, his brother, and receiving this money himself. The total amount he stole in the period was €15,854.70.
The payments to ‘Robert Norton’ were ceased in 2015 after the Department of Social Protection was notified by the accused that ‘Robert’ had become employed in the UK. The real Robert Norton had in fact been working in the UK during the entire period.
The fraud came to light when Norton made an application for a Public Services Card. A photograph of Norton taken during this application was matched to a photograph taken of ‘Robert Norton’ years earlier.
In interview with gardaí, Norton said that he had been minding his brother’s apartment and used documents he found there, including a birth certificate and a bank statement, to perpetrate the deception.
Norton was charged in 2014 for the embezzlement of over €200,000 between 2001 and 2002 from a financial institution which has since gone bankrupt. He forged a number of cheques by including his own name and also forged loan applications.
The court heard that he spent this money in gambling shops. He received a community service order for these offences.
Another situation came to light in 2016 in which Norton had taken approximately €35,000 from another employer. He would contact businesses who purchased furniture from this company, tell them the company had changed bank accounts and then give his own details.
Norton received a two-year prison sentence for this offence.
Gda Hogan said Norton was a “chronic gambler” who is the primary carer for his five children. He said Norton has repaid approximately €4,000 and he has not come to Garda attention since his release from custody.
Gda Hogan agreed with Laurence Masterson BL, defending, that his client had stopped the thefts and deception before they came to light. He agreed that Norton his undergoing counselling for his gambling addiction. Gda Hogan agreed the “core issue” in the case is the accused’s gambling addiction.
Mr Masterson said his client was a “model prisoner” while serving a term of imprisonment for the 2016 offence. He said his client helped to set up a gambler’s anonymous group in a prison that did not have one.
Counsel said his client “is a success story of the prison service”. He asked the court whether a further term of imprisonment would actually add more to his rehabilitation or undermine it.
He said his client is currently employed in the telecommunications sector and while his job is to sell his company’s products, he has no access directly or indirectly to cash or to the accounts.
Counsel said his client has €1,200 in court which can be repaid and has undertaken to make repayments of €350 a month. He said his client will have access to a pension fund when he turns 50 and will be able to repay the balance of the sum by the end of January 2022.
Judge Melanie Greally said Norton has a history of offending in a dishonest manner on two previous occasions and has completed a prison sentence for offences that post-dated these offences.
Judge Greally said the accused was “a very hands-on father” due to his wife’s employment demands as a midwife. She said she took into account genuine remorse and his efforts to rehabilitate.
She sentenced Norton to two years’ imprisonment, but suspended the sentence in full on strict conditions including that he pay back the full sum within a two-year period.