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CITY TRIBUNE

Brothers conned elderly woman out of more than €200,000

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Two brothers face sentence later this month for stealing over €205,000 from a vulnerable old age pensioner by carrying out bogus repairs to her home over an eighteen-month period.

Thomas Coen (46), with addresses at 181 Corrib Park, Newcastle and Old Monivea Road, Ballybrit, along with his younger brother, Michael Coen (38), 181 Corrib Park, were both arrested and charged in 2017 with 61 counts of theft involving large sums of cash taken from the woman between June 2014 and November 2015.

Prosecuting barrister, Conor Fahy BL, told their sentence hearing before Galway Circuit Criminal Court last week that Thomas Coen pleaded guilty in June of last year to the first thirty charges on dates between June 17 and August 30, 2014.

His younger brother pleaded guilty to eight of the remaining 31 charges involving the theft of cash from the woman at her home on dates between September, 2014 and November, 2015.

Both accepted over €200,000 had been stolen, but said they had taken just €80,000 of it for themselves and that other people were behind the scam as well.

Garda David Foley, prosecuting, said Thomas Coen operated a home and garden maintenance company which he still runs, carrying out tree-topping, power-washing and general maintenance for homeowners.

He said Coen knocked on the then 77-year-old, reclusive woman’s door in 2013 and offered to do work around her house.

She declined, but he called back a year later and she accepted his help then, realising she was no longer able to maintain the property herself.

“He started calling to her home regularly between June and November 2015, initially charging her €200 to €300, but as time went by, the price rose considerably into the thousands,” Garda Foley said.

“He employed his younger brother, Michael, and others to carry out work and both brothers would call on an almost daily basis, collecting payments from the woman,” he explained.

Gardai were alerted in November 2015, that “vast sums of money” were leaving the woman’s bank account and going to the brothers.

With her permission, they examined her bank accounts and tallied the amounts withdrawn with amounts the woman had recorded in her own private accounting journal, each time the brothers were paid.

The court heard there had been 61 transactions between June 2014 and November 2015, amounting to €205,230.

Garda Foley got a quantity surveyor to assess the work the brothers had carried out at the woman’s property and he valued it at just €10,063.

The brothers were arrested and questioned. They admitted carrying out the work and that they had overcharged the woman on every occasion, but they claimed they had received just €80,000.

The court heard Gardaí knew other people were involved in the deception. Others had been arrested and questioned but the Director of Public Prosecution’s office had directed they were not to be prosecuted.

“The Coens remained at the front of the operation and other people stayed in the background and they took the money. They were never ‘face to face’ with the injured party,” Garda Foley said.

He described the woman as a “very vulnerable, reclusive lady”.

He said Thomas Coen had numerous previous convictions for theft and deception, including two similar offences in 2011 and again in 2015, for the theft of cash from two other elderly victims.

Michael Coen, he said, had 61 previous convictions, 54 of which were for motoring offences and others for drug dealing. He also had four previous for forgery and handling stolen goods in 2001.

Mr Fahy said the victim was in frail health and he would need time to obtain a victim impact statement from her.

Judge Rory McCabe agreed to adjourn finalisation of sentence to July 23 to obtain the report.

Mr Paul Flannery SC, who represented Thomas Coen, said his client had brought €4,500 to court for the victim.  His brother, who had recently discharged his legal team, brought €1,050.

Mr Flannery said his client would bring more money to court if given time.

“If it’s the case that more money is to be obtained by any means, should I say ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’, then I will put it back,” Judge McCabe said.

In reply to the judge, Garda Foley confirmed he had taken possession of both men’s passports.

“If they do not show up, they will be pursued and will serve a sentence, whatever they receive,” the judge warned, before adjourning finalisation of sentence.

“I presume they will be working hard between now and then,” the judge added as he watched Michael Coen’s newly-appointed solicitor, Sean Acton, hand in his client’s €1,050 to the court.

CITY TRIBUNE

Designated drinking zones in city centre are ‘only solution’

Stephen Corrigan

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Properly staffed designated areas are the only solution to out-of-control outdoor boozing, according to the city councillor who drafted the city’s drinking bylaws.

Cllr Peter Keane told the Galway City Tribune it was likely that councillors would seek to ‘tweak’ the existing bylaws in the near future to find a long-term solution that would enable young people to ‘enjoy a drink outdoors in a safe and controlled environment’, not just now, but in the future too.

To avoid a repeat of scenes around Spanish Arch over recent weekends, the Fianna Fáil councillor said providing areas where the consumption of alcohol was allowed would enable Gardaí to properly enforce the drinking bylaws throughout the rest of the city.

He said he could ‘absolutely appreciate the concerns of residents’ in the Claddagh and elsewhere where anti-social behaviour including urinating in gardens ‘and worse’ had been a blight in recent weeks, but said with proper control, those worst excesses could be avoided.

In the first ten days of June, 83 on-the-spot fines were issued in the city for drinking in a public place.

And last Saturday night, Gardaí closed off the Quincentenary Bridge after hundreds of young people gathered on the carriageway and turned it into a “highly-dangerous road traffic risk situation”.

“Control is the key word for me. Gardaí don’t have the resources, nor do they have the appetite as far as I can see, to deal with the lack of control there has been during the recent good weather.
“If you were to designate, say for example the Spanish Arch or a green area in Salthill, where the bylaws didn’t apply, you could put a number of wardens in place there to control the situation. You could provide adequate bins and toilets, and enough bodies to staff it, and that would allow gardaí to police the bylaws elsewhere,” said Cllr Keane.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story and coverage of the re-opening of the hospitality sector and outdoor dining, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Dispute simmers between businesses and Council over outdoor spaces

Dara Bradley

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Friction between businesses and local government over the reclaiming of public space to facilitate outside hospitality marred the beginning of the city’s ‘outdoor summer’.

Galway City Council has come under fire over its handling of plans by bars and restaurants to use street furniture to facilitate outdoor dining and drinking.

Most city watering holes and eateries resumed trading on Bank Holiday Monday – serving outdoors only – for the first time since Christmas, and the authorities reported that it was successful for the most part, although it needed time to ‘bed in’.

The city vintners’ group said its members with adequate outdoor space were happy to be back and described the mood as ‘euphoric’ in places.

But several outlets expressed disappointment with the Council.

In Eyre Square, the Skeff Late Bar and Kitchen claimed it had to cancel 200 advance bookings – up to 800 people – for this week, after the Council refused permission for “extended outdoor seating”.

On Middle Street, Sangria Tapas Restaurant lashed the Council for refusing it permission to use certain types of awning and windbreakers to facilitate outdoor dining. “Surely the powers that be can take time to support the industry that supports the city?” its proprietor said in a complaint to City Hall.

‘Back the West’, businesses criticised the Council for rowing back on promises to provide additional outdoor space on Dominick Street Lower and Dominick Street Upper, in time for outdoor hospitality’s reopening on June 7.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Council chief: ‘landlords see 4% rent increase cap as a target’

Enda Cunningham

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The Chief Executive of Galway City Council has said that the 4% annual cap on residential rent increases is now seen as a target by many landlords.

Brendan McGrath said that affordability continues to be a major problem for renters in the city and that an increasing number of people availing of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme have to pay ‘top ups’ to their landlords.

The HAP scheme replaces rent supplement for those with a long-term housing need – the individual finds a private rented accommodation within specific rent caps and the Council pays the landlord directly. The tenant then pays a rent to the Council based on their weekly household income.

The maximum monthly rents under the scheme range from €330 for an adult in shared accommodation to €900 for a single parent or couple with three kids.

Based on their household size, tenants can also apply for a 20% extra ‘discretionary’ payment on top of their HAP payment.

However, Mr McGrath said many on the HAP scheme in Galway have to pay top ups to their landlords.

“Rents as a percentage of income is increasing and affordability remains a major problem for the city’s renters. The majority of HAP tenants require additional discretionary payments to assist them in maintaining their tenancies, particularly single person households.

“An increasing number of HAP tenants now have to pay top ups to their landlords even with the 20% extra HAP discretionary payment applied for their particular household size,” Mr McGrath said in a report to councillors.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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