A Kilkenny man who stole over €500,000 from people hoping to buy machinery advertised online, but which did not exist, has had his prison sentence increased on appeal.
Martin Holden (52), with an address at Garrigue, Mullinavat, Co Kilkenny, had pleaded guilty to a number of counts of theft over a five-year period from 2007 to 2012. He came before the court on 10 bills of indictment – five from Kilkenny and five from Waterford because bank accounts were being operated in those counties.
He was sentenced at Kilkenny Circuit Criminal Court to four years imprisonment with the final year suspended in November 2016.
However, the Director of Public Prosecutions successfully sought a review of Holden's sentence on Monday and he was accordingly jailed for four years and eight months. The High Court has ordered Holden's extradition to Lithuania in respect of similar allegations. The order for surrender has been stayed until he serves his sentence.
Giving judgment in the three-judge Court of Appeal, Mr Justice George Birmingham said Holden had been involved in the plant hire business which had gotten into difficulties.
Thereafter, the judge said Holden had devised a scheme in which he began to advertise heavy machinery equipment for sale on various internet sites. The ads included photos and specifications of the various items of equipment which he was claiming to be offering for sale. “In fact, none of the machinery existed,” the judge said.
The equipment was competitively priced, “perhaps even attractively priced”. There was a belief in the market place that because of the recession in Ireland, machinery and equipment was readily available, and people from all over the world expressed interest.
When contacted by an interested party, Holden would represent that he could make arrangements for the machinery to be shipped abroad. In some instances a deposit figure was agreed and bank details were provided. In some instances a bill of lading or an invoice was generated in respect of the machinery and sent to the intended purchaser.
Mr Justice Birmingham said Holden stole over €500,000 from 17 people from many different parts of the world. The losses sustained by the injured parties ranged from €2,000 to €40,000.
It seemed that when money was deposited by the injured parties into Holden's bank account, monies would then be withdrawn within days and transferred to Lithuania, where Holden had a wife.
At trial, there was no information about the current whereabouts of the monies or any real explanation about where the monies had gone apart from a comment that they had been spent.
Only one purchaser had succeeded in recovering any of the money - a gentleman from Chicago in the Unites States who had come to Ireland and had “strong-armed” Holden, the court heard.
Counsel for the DPP, Noel Whelan BL, told the court that in July 2010, Holden had pleaded guilty to matters that happened in Kilkenny. Despite being “rumbled”, investigated, questioned and having pleaded guilty, Mr Whelan said Holden resumed the precise pattern of offending with the same intensity, if not greater – while on bail pending sentence.
Mr Justice Birmingham said it was a “very unusual feature” of the case that much of the offending occurred at a time when Holden was not only on bail but when he had already pleaded guilty in respect of similar offences.
In mitigation, Holden had no convictions prior to pleading guilty in Kilkenny. His first marriage broke up when he was the father of two young children. He then experienced a nervous breakdown.
Mr Justice Birmingham said there was no doubt the offence was serious, elaborate and had been carried out over a protracted period of five years. There were a large number of injured parties and a number of them were at a very significant loss.
What was very unusual about the case, if not unique, was the the fraudulent conduct was identified, investigated and charged. Pleas were entered but then the offending resumed.
Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Mr Justice John Hedigan, said the court had concluded that Holden's sentence was not just lenient but unduly lenient and clearly so.
He was accordingly resentenced to four years and eight months imprisonment.