A County Leitrim man who was involved in a “sophisticated crime” involving stolen tractors in Northern Ireland has been given a suspended jail sentence at Sligo Circuit Court.
56-year-old Thomas Cullen, Shannon Grove, Carrick-on-Shannon pleaded guilty to three sample counts out of a total of six, at an earlier sitting of the court.
The father-of-two pleaded guilty to possession of a stolen John Deere tractor on November 18, 2015 at the Vehicle Registration Office at Dromiskabole, Sligo, making a gain or loss by deception on December 15 at the same location, by submitting a false instrument to Ms Patricia Lynch in order for her to complete a check list to issue a certificate for the vehicle.
He also pleaded guilty to a charge of using a false instrument at the VRO Centre, namely a receipt of sale for a John Deere tractor for €25,000 with the buyer being Thomas Cullen, knowing it to be a false instrument on the same date.
In sentencing the defendant Judge Francis Comerford said that while it was a sophisticated crime planned by others higher up the chain, the defendant was effectively the “fall guy” for relatively little gain.
The tractor had been stolen from an individual called Patsy McNulty in Northern Ireland in August 2014 and was modified by using the details of a bona fide tractor.
Cullen went on to register the stolen tractor and falsely claimed that he was the owner. The tractor was then sold on to a firm in Scotland and then to Spain.
He performed an identical transaction in respect of a different stolen New Holland tractor from Tullylagan in Northern Ireland and it too was registered with details which were from another tractor.
This tractor was later sold on to Gilmore Brothers for €35,000.
But when this tractor was about to be registered it was found it was being registered twice and Sergeant Gerry Murphy from Ballymote Garda Station and Detective Garda Eugene O'Sullivan began an investigation.
The details that Cullen submitted were for genuine tractors but different to those for the stolen tractors, the court was told.
And some of the details used were from a US tractor to try and confuse gardai.
By chance, Detective Garda O'Sullivan met Thomas Cullen on another matter and asked him about the two stolen tractors and the defendant admitted that he had registered both vehicles.
The judge said the defendant had a “minor role” and was the “fall guy”
The defendant was arrested and admitted that he did not own the tractors and admitted that the bills of sale were false.
It was the exact same crime in respect of both tractors.
The judge said the defendant had a “minor role” and was the “fall guy” who was out front on behalf of “other players” and he engaged in “dishonest behaviour” for small pay.
The court accepted that his actions were reckless more than a deliberate attempt to commit fraud by handling and selling stolen property.
He knew that he had not bought these tractors. He knew it was something dodgy but agreed to go along with it due to poor financial circumstances.
The defendant was “an essential element of the fraud, but very much a minor player, doing what he was told rather than a planner.”
The judge said there had been losses to Mr McNulty and the Gilmore Brothers who had to buy a replacement tractor valued at €53,000 and they had innocently paid €25,0000 for a stolen tractor.
The RSA suffered a loss as did Tullylagan as did the auction house who paid to bring the first tractor back from Spain as a result of serious “pre-meditated wrongdoing.”
Judge Comerford said that Cullen's gain was small, around €700.
Cullen had previous convictions, but they were not of a major criminal level.
His early admissions were helpful in bringing a prosecution to court.
He had lived a largely productive life, working on the buildings in England, came home and worked at shuttering and steel fixing but was no longer able to do so after suffering a serious heart attack four years ago and was on medication and hoping for a transplant and was on €205 invalidity per week.
The defendant had two children of 20 and 16 with whom he has regular contact.
He became involved in a crime knowing it was reckless and that others might suffer.
The judge noted that while the defendant was co-operative, he did not name the people “who were higher up the chain of command.”
The gardai accepted that the defendant would have a “degree of fear” if he gave their names.
But there had been substantial co-operation.
The judge said the defendant could expect an 18 months jail sentence on the first two counts and two years in jail on the third count and the sentences would be concurrent.
The remaining three identical charges would be taken into consideration.
But the judge took the defendant's health into consideration, his co-operation, but said a CSO was not an option given his health.
Judge Comerford suspended the sentences for three years and told the defendant to keep the peace and be of good behaviour on his own bond of €100.