Cross-border ‘money mule’ avoids jail over financial fraud charge

Cross-border ‘money mule’ avoids jail over financial fraud charge

17 February 2021

A CASTLEWELLAN woman who was described by a judge as a “money mule” in a cross-border bank fraud received a four-month suspended jail sentence at Downpatrick Crown Court last week.

Janine Brown (33), of Clarkhill Road, pleaded guilty to a single charge of acquiring criminal property to the tune of £7,850 on April 19, 2018.

The court, sitting in Belfast, heard that Brown may have only personally received £100 for agreeing to allow her bank account to be used for a large sum of money to be wrongfully transferred from an account of a Dublin solicitor’s office.

Sentencing Brown, Judge Geoffrey Miller explained how a call to the solicitor’s office from someone claiming to be from a bank started off the fraud.

He said the solicitor was in the process of changing the details of the firm’s administrator with the bank due to a maternity leave and that the fraudster had details of the both the outgoing and incoming administrators and their log-in names.

The fraudster made a number of calls citing that there were some difficulties with the account and got an administrator sign-in code from one of the staff members.

The judge added that the person then used the information to make three unauthorised payments totalling £26,398 from the firm’s bank accounts to three bank accounts in Northern Ireland.

One payment for £7,850 went into Brown’s account which was later withdrawn by Brown in four separate cash transactions of pounds and euros in the Newtownabbey and Glengormley area, continued the judge.

The payments were later traced to the Brown who was interviewed by police in September 2019. Brown admitted receiving the money, having been asked to do so from a friend of her partner’s from the Shankill area of Belfast.

She was told that the friend, known only as Johnny, wanted to buy a BMW car from the the Republic of Ireland later that day.

While he acknowledged that the fraud was a “sophisticated one”, Judge Miller said that it was accepted that Brown’s role was limited and she could be described as a “money mule”.

“In her interview it is apparent that she did not get anything, in fact in one point, she says she didn’t even get £20, there is perhaps evidence to suggest that she may have received a token payment of £100,” said Judge Miller.

“Regardless of the amount that she may have received, it’s a case, at the very least, where she acted with gross naivety. At the other extreme, she was aware, and certainly should have been, precisely of the fraudulent nature of the payment into her account.”

The judge noted that Brown, who had no previous convictions, had recently lost her job and he declined to make a compensation order.

In his sentencing, he took into account her lack of a criminal record, that she entered a plea at the earliest stage and waived her right for a pre-sentence report. He suspended the jail sentence for 12 months.