By Declan Brennan
A mother of four who fraudulently claimed more than €100,000 in child welfare and single parent benefits has been jailed for two years.
Lawyers for Janet Agbontaen (55) told Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that she was under the control of a domineering and violent husband when she committed the thefts and frauds.
The court heard when the Nigerian native arrived in Dublin airport in April 2001 heavily pregnant and under a false identity, she claimed to be from Sierra Leone and sought asylum.
Five months later she made a second claim of asylum under her real identity and claimed she had arrived in Ireland the day before.
For the next eight years she lived here under two identities, one of which was fake.
Under the false identity she fraudulently claimed around €55,000 in child benefit claims, €3,000 in early childcare allowance, and around €83,700 in one parent family payments.
In 2002 she took a judicial review against a deportation order relating to her and her children under the false identities. Her sworn statements to the High Court are the basis for charges of perjury or perverting the course of justice.
Lorcan Staines SC, prosecuting, told the court that because of the varyingly false accounts of her children she gave in her application to stay here, the Minister was unknowingly seeking to deport an Irish citizen.
Mr Staines told the court that some of the benefits paid out were for children who were born here, but who she had given false identities to match her own fake name.
He said that some of the children were entitled to the benefits on the basis that “the children had done no wrong”, reducing the sums taken by €40,000 to leave a total of €102,718.
He said that there is €88,000 outstanding as the defendant has been making regular repayments through a discount from the ongoing social welfare payments she is legitimately claiming under her real identity.
Agbontaen of Castlegrange Square, Clonee, Dublin, pleaded guilty to nine sample counts of theft from the Minister of Social Protection at post offices at Enniscorthy, Co Wexford and in Dublin city on various dates between October 2002 and April 2008.
She also pleaded guilty to giving false information about her child in October 2002 and fraudulently obtaining a driving licence in November 2002.
Defending counsel James Dwyer SC told the court that his client was under the direction of an over bearing husband. Detective Garda Francis Hoban agreed that her husband was “extremely violent” and the court heard of a number of incidents of garda calling to the house on foot of allegations of assault.
At one point gardaí took the woman, who has worked as a health care assistant, to hospital from her home with a head injury.
Dt Gda Hoban said that she has spent times in women's shelters and agreed that, despite the amount of money taken, she and her family “weren’t living in the lap of luxury”.
Judge Martin Nolan said that the defendant used a false identity to get into Ireland and went on to make a life for herself here.
He said that she used her false identity to embark on a course of fraud, by what he said is commonly known as “double-dipping” for benefit payments.
He noted that she was a victim of domestic violence and, to some degree, coercion and said he was taking this, and her lack of relevant previous offending, into consideration.
He told the woman's family, who became very distressed as the prison term was imposed, that “your mother is getting the most lenient sentence the court can give”.