The detective work also led to the recovery of €15,000 for the couple who were conned.
Det. Garda Robert McCarthy spotted the man reading a newspaper on the roof of a house in Montenotte in Cork on July 22, 2014.
When he called to the house he found that the 78-year-old woman and her husband, who is in his 80s, were very distressed and felt that they had been railroaded into an attic conversion when a man called to their house.
Denis Harrington, aged 41, of 99 Ballyspillane, Killarney, County Kerry, pleaded guilty to the theft of €20,000 by deception.
Sinead Behan, defence solicitor, said the accused had raised €15,000 in compensation.
Harrington got a suspended sentence previously for a similar scam in Cork and another one in Tipperary.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said: “There is only so much luck in any man’s life. His luck may have run out.”
He sentenced Harrington to 18 months in jail. That consisted of a four-year sentence, with two-and-a-half years suspended.
“This is a particularly nasty type of offence, to go around the country preying on innocent, elderly people in their homes. It is quite despicable,” the judge said.
The victims’ daughter read a victim impact statement from her parents, written by her mother.
“In July 2014, I opened the door of my home where my husband and I were persuaded in a forceful manner into getting work done on our house.
“We weren’t given any time to think or cooling off period. Before we knew it they were cutting an opening in our landing ceiling for an attic conversion. They kept putting pressure on us for money as they needed to buy materials.”
“As an elderly couple, we really felt intimidated. Our house was overrun by men making lots of noise, but no sign of work done or materials arriving. We were so relieved when the gardaí came to the scene and took charge of the crisis we were in. The fear and shame we felt was as if we had done some wrong. The entire experience was traumatic.
“We don’t answer the door anymore. It’s not something we ever believed could happen to us. We saw ourselves as capable and aware of life.
“We want to say a special thank you for the professionalism, ability, kindness, care, dedication, and backbone shown by Detective Garda Robert McCarthy.
“He demonstrated a great duty of care and, for that, we will always be grateful. As a society, we really need to support and back An Garda Síochána, because, without them, we would be lost.”
Judge Ó Donnabháin noted how bewildered the retired husband and wife were to have been in this predicament. He said they were fortunate that the young detective followed it up.
“What they say about the guard is heartfelt. It was a very nasty type of offence. I have no idea what went on in Clonmel or in Cork District Court, but this is his (Harrington’s) third conviction for this type of thing,” the judge said. He asked the prison authorities to note the defendant’s doctor’s letter, which described Harrington as depressed and suicidal.