Documents released to Village under FoI reveal false pretences behind €25,000 paid by Meath County Council to former employees of plant-hire company owed the money.
By Frank Connolly
Official documents obtained by Village have revealed in considerable detail the manner in which a County Meath businessman was defrauded by a former employee in 2008 and 2009.
The documents, provided by Meath County Council following requests made under FOI, include a series of invoices provided under false pretences by a former employee of plant-hire provider, P Sheils Plant Hire of Duleek in County Meath.
As previously disclosed in Village over the past two years, the owner of the company, Patrick Sheils, was never paid for a number of contracts he completed for MCC in 2008 and 2009. In July 2009, he discovered that two of his former employees had formed a company called PSPH Contracts Ltd. (using the initials of his company name) and had sought and obtained payment from MCC for work carried out by P Sheils Plant Hire.
The claim Sheils had been paid was made despite a letter from another senior official of the Council that Phoenix Civil Engineering Ltd. “was part of the P Sheils group of companies”
When Sheils submitted invoices in 2009 and 2010 for 13 specific jobs totalling over €25,000 he had completed for the Council in various parts of County Meath, he was informed that another company, PSPH (Phoenix Civil Engineering Ltd.) had been contracted to carry out the same work and had been paid.
It also emerged that Phoenix Civil Engineering, owned by his former employees Sinéad McNamara and David O’Donoghue, was on the list of approved and registered contractors for the Council and was obtaining work for which Patrick Sheils had tendered and previously had carried out for MCC over many years.
PSPH Contracts Ltd. was formed by directors David O’Donoghue and his wife in 2008 and the name was changed in the Companies Office to Phoenix Civil Engineering Ltd. in May 2009, with McNamara and David O’Donoghue as directors.
The documents obtained under FOI confirm that Sinéad McNamara submitted a series of invoices in the name of the new company PSPH Contracts Ltd. during 2008 and 2009 and received the payments from MCC. The invoices covered up to 13 different jobs carried out by P Sheils Plant Hire and awarded, after a tender process, to the firm during over the period. McNamara used the phone number and health and safety documentation of P Sheils Plant Hire in her contacts with the Council, without authorisation from the firm.
According to the documents received under FOI, executive engineer for MCC in Trim, Martin Walsh, signed off on a number of the invoices for Ms McNamara and also helped to process the required purchase orders and other authorisations before the payments were made. There is no suggestion that Mr Walsh was involved in anything improper or illegal in this regard.
When Paddy Sheils sought payment, in June 2009, for repairs carried out by his employees with his equipment at Rathmolyon Road, Summerhill, County Meath on 30th March, Mr Walsh replied that “Meath County Council, Trim Area office, didn’t hire P Sheils plant hire (sic) to carry out this work so Meath County Council will not be paying this invoice”.
After Sheils submitted further requests for payments in August and September 2011, Walsh again asserted that the work was “carried out by a Contractor other than P Sheils Plant Hire”.
In his letter of 14 September, 2011, (below), Walsh stated that “P Sheils Plant Hire was not authorised to carry out these repairs by Meath County Council, Trim Area and as such we are unable to process your Invoice in this regard”.
Another senior official of MCC also wrote in September 2011 to Patrick Sheils “to advise that PSPH Contracts Limited (Phoenix Civil Engineering) were engaged by Meath County Council to deal with an emergency leakage on the water main at Rathmolyon, Summerhill on 26th March, 2009”.
“The Council have paid PSPH Contracts Limited for the work done, including the materials used and cannot accept that your company has any title to or ownership of these materials. The works in question were not carried out by your firm on behalf of Meath County Council but rather by PSPH Contracts Limited and they have been paid for same. There is no basis for including the Council in any legal proceedings which you may be contemplating as the issues you have raised are clearly between yourself and PSPH”.
This assertion was made despite a letter from another senior official of the Council writing in June 2010 that Phoenix Civil Engineering Ltd. “was part of the P Sheils group of companies”. The letter signed by MCC administrative officer, Eamon Lynch, was provided following an FoI request in June 201o. It stated: “the following is a list of companies which we believe are part of the P Sheils group of companies that have carried out/continue to carry out work on behalf of the Council: P Sheils Plant Hire Ltd, P Sheils Quarry Ltd, Phoenix Civil Engineering Ltd”.
In fact, Phoenix Civil Engineering Ltd was never part of the P Sheils group of companies. It was set up by McNamara and O’Donoghue in late 2008 and has operated since then from a business park at Collon, County Meath. McNamara left the employment of P Sheils Plant Hire in January 2009 but continued to send invoices to MCC for work done by the firm after that date.
As previously reported in Village, the role of McNamara and David O’Donoghue and another former employee in obtaining monies due to Patrick Sheils was the subject of a fraud investigation carried out by the Garda in the wake of complaints he made in 2009 and 2010. Sheils and other employees confirmed to the gardai that they had carried out the work on various jobs for which McNamara sought and obtained payment on foot of false invoices submitted to Meath County Council.
Siobhán Ryan pleaded guilty to fraud and was given a suspended sentence in 2014 at Trim District Court and ordered to pay compensation of €25,000 to her former employer, Patrick Sheils. The charges against McNamara were dropped while O’Donoghue was acquitted after a trial before a jury in the Circuit Court in 2016. McNamara gave evidence in his defence during the court hearing.
It is understood that the dozens of documents seen recently by Village magazine, including email exchanges between McNamara, using her personal email address, and several officials of MCC as well as the invoices she submitted for work carried out by P Sheils Plant Hire were not made available to the Garda fraud investigation.
Martin Walsh told Village he was aware of the documents released under FOI in relation to his dealings with PSPH (Phoenix Engineering Ltd) and referred queries to Meath County Council. Sinéad McNamara refused to respond to questions from Village.
*After Village went to press the following response was received from Meath County Council:
“Meath County Council co-operated fully with An Garda Síochána on this matter. An Garda Síochána had access to all of the records that the Council held, relevant to its investigation”.