Bank staff feared for elderly drover, court hears

Bank of Ireland officials were concerned when ‘out of no-where’ a customer in his 90s, asked for a ‘ball of cash’ from his accounts to buy property, Tralee Circuit Court heard this week.

The court was told Eugene O’Sullivan, known as Ireland’s oldest drover, twice sought large sums of money in cash from the bank, but was refused and advised to get a solicitor to deal with such large withdrawals.

Officials from the bank were among those to give evidence on Tuesday at Tralee Circuit Criminal Court, sitting in Limerick, in the trial of Patrick Hurley of Carhugarrife, Leap, Cork who is facing two charges of theft – of €20,000 and €50,000 – from Eugene O’Sullivan (95) of Parnell Place, Kenmare and two further counts of deceiving Mr O’Sullivan out of the cash.

Mr Hurley (73) is charged that on December 14,2016 he induced Mr O’Sullivan to withdraw €20,000. He is further charged with the theft of the €20,000. The other charges are the same but relate to a sum of €50,000 on March 15, 2017.

Tom Rice BL, prosecuting, said it is alleged Mr Hurley deceived Mr O’Sullivan into believing that his money was not safe in the bank and induced him to remove two separate sums of money in December 2016 and March 2017.

On the first day of the trial evidence was given by Bank of Ireland officials who were concerned when Mr O’Sullivan sought to withdraw large sums of money to purchase land and property.

The court heard Mr O’Sullivan, was in his 90’s at the time, was a wealthy man with numerous bank accounts with various banks in the town including Bank of Ireland.

Assistant Manager of the Bank of Ireland in Kenmare at that time Tom Keane told the court he knew Eugene O’Sullivan from ‘coming in and out lodging and withdrawing funds’ and had a rapport with him.

He said that ‘out of no-where’ in July or August 2016 Mr O’Sullivan came in asking to withdraw a large sum of money to purchase land.

“It was completely off the cuff,” said Mr Keane. Mr O’Sullivan was asking for €300,000 to purchase land.

Mr Keane said he told Mr O’Sullivan he could not do that and that he would need to engage a solicitor and the funds could be released on a solicitor’s instructions after a price was agreed.

“He was under the impression that he could get €300,000 [cash] and go to his solicitor. I explained the process,” said Mr Keane.

On August 23, 2016, a solicitor’s letter was sent to Bank of Ireland from Maura Hennessy solicitor in Tralee. It was addressed to Ms O’Sullivan the previous assistant manager but Mr Keane received it and responded.

Ms Hennessy was writing on behalf of her client Patrick Hurley with regard to Mr O’Sullivan. The letter stated that she had met with Mr O’Sullivan and he wished to withdraw €400,000.

Mr Keane said he explained to Ms Hennessy that ‘authority’ had to be given to withdraw the funds which included a signed withdrawal form.

She told him she would revert and when Mr Keane contacted her again in late September, he was told the sale was not going ahead.

Mr Keane said some- time in October or November Mr O’Sullivan wanted a ‘ball of cash’ to buy a house. Mr Keane again said he would need a solicitor. “It was out of no-where that he wanted this money. I kept probing. I felt he was vulnerable,” he said.

Mr Keane ultimately gave Mr O’Sullivan €5,000 cash which he said was for personal use.

Mr Keane then received a letter from solicitor Pat Farrelly – then part of O’Mahony, Farrelly, O’Callaghan Solicitors in Bantry – in which he stated that he acted for Mr Eugene O’Sullivan.

In the letter, read in court, Mr Farrelly said his client, Eugene, was ‘most dissatisfied’ as he couldn’t access his money in his accounts.

Following this letter Mr Keane again met Mr O’Sullivan and asked him what was going on. He said he had a ‘duty of care’ as Mr O’Sullivan was a vulnerable customer due to his age. He said Mr Sullivan would not give him any answers as to why he needed the money and why “all of a sudden” he was sending solicitors letters.

Mr Farrelly instructed Mr Keane that he and Mr O’Sullivan would be coming to the bank for €20,000 and for the certificates detailing all Mr O’Sullivan’s balances. They came to the bank on December 14 and the cash was given to them.

Mr Keane told the court he was ‘relieved’ there was solicitor involved for cover due diligence.

“I would have given him a cheque at any stage, but I was slow to give out cash all along.”

Mr Keane told the court that Mr Farrelly and Mr O’Sullivan left the bank and got into a jeep driven by a third man.

Brian McInerney, counsel for Mr Hurley, and instructed by Eimear Griffin of Padraig O’Connell Solicitors, said that it would not be unusual in the town for people to be ‘walking around with cash in their pockets’ given the rural nature of the area and that older farmers are more likely to deal with cash.

Branch manager of Bank of Ireland, Conor Brosnan, gave evidence of similar requests for large sums of money from Mr O’Sullivan who he also advised to get a solicitor.

He received correspondence from Mr Farrelly in March seeking the release of €50,000. Mr Brosnan said he spoke to Mr Farrelly about the ‘unusual’ request and raised concerns about whether Mr O’Sullivan was ‘under duress’.

He said that Mr Farrelly mentioned the Banking Ombudsman, which he believed was a complaint against him.

Mr Brosnan subsequently arranged for the €50,000 to be released and advised the Gardaí that the transaction was taking place on March 15. This was collected by Mr Farrelly and Mr O’Sullivan and a third man was parked outside.

“The jeep pulled up and the funds put in the passenger window. I don’t recall who put the funds in,” Mr Brosnan told the court.

Mr Farrelly gave evidence and said that he had followed standard practises and believed Mr O’Sullivan was able to manage his own affairs.

He said Mr O’Sullivan had come to him with a very ‘unusual’ request and told him he had ‘loads of money’ but the bank wouldn’t give it to him. He said Mr O’Sullivan told him he wanted money for builders and he also indicated he wanted to move all his money from the bank. He said Mr O’Sullivan was accompanied by Mr Hurley when he visited his office on November 16, 2016.

Mr Farrelly said he had asked Mr O’Sullivan if he was happy with Mr Hurley to be in attendance. Mr Hurley was not in the room for this query. He said he understood that Mr O’Sullivan and Mr Hurley were distant cousins who had known each other for more than 40 years.

Evidence was also given by Mr Farrelly of a visit by Mr Hurley to his office, without Mr O’Sullivan to give him the authority form. On that occasion he asked Mr Hurley to get a Doctor’s letter to say Mr O’Sullivan could manage his affairs. The trial continues.

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