SURPRISE GUILTY PLEA IN SPANISH PROPERTY SCAM

Bernadette McGeary

A 55 year old woman from County Tyrone, who appeared along with her brother and sister this week, has pleaded guilty in Belfast Crown Court of a property scam relating to the purchase of holiday homes in Spain, including in the Cabo Roig, La Zenia and Playa Flamenca area, with a fraud value of over a quarter of a million pound.

The case dates back to charges in 2008, when Bernadette McGeary appeared before Dungannon Magistrate’s Court faced charges of obtaining money by deception and involvement in acquiring criminal property relating to the case. The investigation revealed that between April and December of 2006, McGeary was involved in offering properties for sale, and charging half of the money up front, but the investors and individuals would never see the sale to completion.

During her appearance, McGeary was charged with three counts of obtaining a money transfer by deception, and with two counts of entering an arrangement to acquire criminal property. McGeary strenuously denied the charges and was released on bail, reappearing to be referred to Crown Court.

This week, McGeary appeared at Belfast Crown Court, facing a trial on 27 charges relating to the investigation. As the jury were sworn in on Wednesday, the seven women and five men were told to expect the trial to last for up to six weeks.

Seeking justice for a scam that had cost many of the victims a considerable amount of money, an estimated 20 of them appeared in the public gallery, with the judge making an unusual move as to ask some of them to identify themselves to the jury. The judge also told the members of the jury that they should not discuss the case with anybody, including friends and family, and, “You should also not research this case on the internet”, reminding the jurors that “it is a criminal offence for a juror to research a case on the internet”.

However, as the trial began on Thursday, proceedings took a dramatic twist, when the prosecution told the judge that nine new offences were to be added to the charges.

Prosecuting counsel, Frank O’Donoghue QC, told the judge, “In the view of the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) the nine new counts are acceptable and reflect the criminal responsibility of Bernadette McGeary”, continuing, “I would ask that she be re-arraigned on these new counts”.

Therefore, on Friday, McGeary pleaded guilty to those nine new offences, eight charges of theft and one of obtaining financial advantage by deception, with a total value of 270,000 pounds. McGeary answered “guilty” to all nine counts levied against her, to which Mr O’Donoghue said that the “guilty pleas to the new charges were acceptable to the PPS”. The prosecution therefore agreed that the previous 27 charges be “left on the books and not be proceeded with”.

Her brother and sister, Stephen Peter McGeary and Catherine Mooney, both from Dungannon, were acquitted of any involvement in the case, after the judge instructed the jury to find them not guilty. They had faced a total of 11 related charges.

The counsel for defence, Gregg Berry QC, asked for a pre-sentence report to be prepared along with a medical report, and that McGeary be released on continuing bail.

McGeary was released from court under the terms of her continued bail, and will return on the 11th of April for sentencing. However, despite freeing her, the judge warned McGeary , “do not take that as an indication of how the court will deal with you”.

Filed under: http://www.theleader.info/article/42949/

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