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Gardai look again at white collar acquittals

Paddy Sheils found employees of his company were using his business name and equipment to supply Meath County Council

Acounty meath businessman has fought a prolonged battle to recover what he claims are millions of euro in losses and damages caused by former employees who set up a company using his business name and equipment. Paddy Sheils of P Sheils Plant Hire (PSPH) has claimed that three former employees established a company also called PSPH, in 2008, to supply customers, including Meath County Council, with road digging, maintenance and other services using his equipment.

One former employee, Siobhan Ryan, pleaded guilty in the District Court in 2014 to offences related to the fraud. Another former employee, David O’Donoghue, was acquitted following a jury trial in 2016. The charges against a third, Sinead McNamara, were withdrawn.

The complaint by Sheils has been the subject of investigation by the Garda and by the local authority but he has never received compensation from Meath County Council for his alleged losses. Last week, the state solicitor for Meath, Vincent O’Reilly, was given leave in the Trim District Court to obtain transcripts of the trial of David O’Donoghue as it has been alleged that incorrect evidence was given to the court in his case.

Paddy Sheils started his plant hire business in 1989 at Garballagh, Duleek, County Meath and by 1993 was obtaining civil and contract work from Meath County Council. In 1996, he incorporated P Sheils Plant Hire Ltd. (PSPH) and purchased a yard with offices at Rathdrinagh, Beauparc in Navan. He was managing director running the day-to-day operations of the company while his brother Fergus held a 1% share and was also a director.

He purchased a quarry at Knockmooney in Slane in 2004 from which he supplied stone for building sites and motorway projects. He did extensive road and footpath work, water repairs, and maintenance for Meath County Council. His workforce grew to more than 80 employees over the next few years.

In September 2009, he noticed discrepancies in the company’s financial records, including in relation to cheque-book payments. His accountant found that there were irregularities in cash receipts and in the payment of wages for goods and services provided by the company.

Siobhan Ryan of Kells, County Meath had worked for the company since February 2008 being responsible for financial accounts, before she departed in April 2009. David O’Donoghue, from Collon in Louth, had worked with Sheils’ company since 2006, starting out as a lorry driver before being given responsibility for organising the servicing, repair and replacement of plant and machinery at the company. He left the job in February 2009.

Sinead McNamara from Drumconrath, near Navan took worked with P Sheils Plant Hire from 2007 to 2009 managing contracts for clients, including the local authority, as well as holding responsibility for health and safety matters for the company.

After they left, Sheils discovered that his company had been defrauded and that the three former staff had established their own company, also called PSPH, in 2008. His company logo, evidence of its health and safety compliance as well as insurance documentation, had been used by the new rm to tender for work from Meath County Council.

He discovered that invoices had been submitted by former staff to the local authority for work done by his company with his equipment. The money was paid into an account in a bank in Ardee, County Louth, according to gardaí. When she pleaded guilty to the offences, Siobhan Ryan told gardai that all three were acting in concert. However, O’Donoghue was acquitted following his trial in 2016 and the charges against McNamara were withdrawn earlier.

Siobhan Ryan admitted that she was responsible for false entries on the accounts system which she operated. She made a compensation payment of 120,000 to Sheils, and the Probation Act was applied by the court in February 2014. O’Donoghue was tried in the Circuit Court in Trim where he was found not guilty. Sinead McNamara provided evidence in this case on his behalf.

Sheils has since produced information that contradicts the evidence of McNamara. He has also questioned why the charges against her were dropped given that investigating gardai had established that she had collected a cheque payment from Meath County Council which was lodged into the account of PSPH, the company his former staff established in 2008.

Sheils has also pressed for an investigation into the role of Council officials and employees who dealt with his former staff and authorised payments to them and has sought the return of these monies to him. He claims that his company suffered losses of hundreds of thousands of euro as a result of the fraud and that the original Garda investigation was less than satisfactory.

A new investigation was prompted following Dáil questions by County Louth Fine Gael deputy, Fergus O’Dowd, to then justice minister, Frances Fitzgerald, in December 2016 and March 2017. This led to a successful application by garda Michael Devine to the Trim District Court on 30 May for the transcripts of the earlier trial of David O’Donoghue which took place in the Circuit Court in 2016.

Frank Connolly