Rory Lenihan. Photo North West Newspix.
A Donegal civil servant who passed information on social welfare recipients to private investigators has been jailed for 12 months.
Rory Lenihan, of 2a Ballaghderg, Illistrin, Letterkenny pleaded guilty to 12 sample counts of corrupt receiving of gifts under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Letterkenny Circuit Criminal Court heard that the 50-year-old, who is originally from Dublin, received almost €22,000 from two private detectives into his Donegal town bank account between January 2008 and October 2010 when he was a clerical officer in the Department of Social Welfare in Letterkenny.
He used the department's computer system to access the information.
Sentencing Lenihan today Judge John Aylmer said the offences had involved a significant breach of trust with a sole motivating factor of financial gain.
The judge said there were significant mitigating factors including that he was of previous good character, had cooperated with the investigation, had shown deep remorse, has suffered a significant loss of reputation and adverse publicity, has lost his job, his marriage had broken up and he was under some financial strain at the time.
Judge Aylmer said that while Lenihan had to be given credit for having no previous convictions, the case merited a custodial sentence because of the prolonged period over which it was committed and the gravity of the offences.
Judge Aylmer imposed a sentence of two years on each count and suspended the last 12 months of each sentence. The sentences are to run concurrently.
The court had heard that his activity came to the attention of department in September 2010 when one of his superiors noticed he was using his office phone and computer during his morning break.
An investigation was launched and records were obtained in relation to the telephone extension and searches used on the computer.
Mr Lenihan was interviewed and made admissions. He said he knew a private investigator called John Buckley whose number appeared on the phone records and admitted that he provided information to him.
Lenihan was receiving a nett salary of €560 a week at the time.
A garda investigation revealed payments to Lenihan’s bank account from two private investigators, Brian Foy in Leixlip and John Buckley of Navan Road, Dublin.
Gardaí subsequently launched searches of the offices of the private investigators.
Detective Garda Peter Cullen told the court that Lenihan used the department’s Infosys system which held confidential information.
There was a total of 41 payments between January 2008 and October 2010 and he received €23 for each social welfare recipient that he provided the details of.
Garda Cullen said the searches revealed queries from third parties to Mr Foy. He would send a fax to Lenihan and he would send the information back by fax.
The court heard that the father of five has lost his job and has separated from his wife since the investigation started.
Defence barrister Mr Peter Nolan (BL) said it was Mr Foy who contacted Mr Lenihan after been given his number by Mr Buckley.
He said the information sought included queries from solicitor's offices seeking information on people to serve papers on them. Information provided by Mr Lenihan was also passed on to financial institutions.
He said Mr Foy and Mr. Buckley had not been prosecuted.
“They are walking around out there and Mr Lenihan is sitting in court today.”
Mr Nolan said Lenihan had put his “job, family, reputation on the line for a measly €21,000”.
The accused had no previous convictions, has lost his job and has been living on social welfare since October 2013, he added.
Mr Nolan said "it was a criminal act by someone who was not a criminal" and that there were financial stresses and strains on him.
Maria Lenihan, a sister of the accused, said her parents and siblings were standing by him.
She said she was horrified when she heard what he had done. “As a family, we would be very honest," she said.
Mr Nolan said the accused had done a very stupid thing but he had made full admissions and shown remorse.
Addressing Judge John Aylmer, he said: “The non-prosecution of other parties is a matter for you, but it seems he is carrying the can. He would not have given information if he had not been rung for it and if financial inducements had not been offered to him.
“For some reason best known to the Director of Public Prosecutions, these gentlemen were not prosecuted and are probably trading away and I hope they are not ringing some other poor unfortunate civil servant and asking for information as we speak.”
Mr Nolan said Lenihan “has already been punished and will be punished until the day he dies”. He called on Judge Aylmer not to impose a custodial sentence as he said he did not know what it would achieve.