Complainant in alleged 'romance fraud' scheme in Dungarvan cannot be found, court hears

By Eoghan Dalton
A case involving an alleged "romance fraud" scheme in west Waterford has been delayed as the chief witness and complainant cannot be found.The court was told that the alleged fraud was in relation to bloodstock - thoroughbred horses - affecting a woman and a man now suffering from stage 4 cancer, who the court heard lost up to €60,000 as a result of the scheme. However the defence has questioned whether the case "will ever come to trial", as the woman, Catherine O'Brien, formerly of Ballinroad, Dungarvan, is nowhere to be found and a suspect herself in eight active cases involving €100,000 and lesser amounts. The men charged in relation to the case are Gary Dineen, 26, of Forest Court, Swords, Dublin, and Robert O'Toole, 35, from Woodlands, Philipsburgh, Marino, Dublin 3. They are both accused of a single count of demanding money with menace from Ms O'Brien under the Criminal Justice Public Order Act 1994. The demands were allegedly made in a location unknown in the Dungarvan district on September 18 2019.
No pleas have yet been entered by the two accused.  The case appeared before the court last week and it was hoped that Ms O'Brien could be traced before this week's sitting.However, State prosecuting barrister Conor O'Doherty told Waterford's Circuit Criminal Court on Tuesday that the woman could not be located despite comprehensive efforts by gardaí.He previously sought an adjournment when the complainant could not be located. Mr Dineen's defence barrister, Conor Roberts asked the court that the other complainant, who is an elderly man suffering from cancer, be allowed to provide evidence via video link rather than appear in court. Mr Roberts said his client is in full-time employment with no previous convictions and wants the matter addressed so he can move on with his life. Mr Roberts said the "alleged injured party is a suspect in a number of investigations" by gardaí but who has not been found in relation to those matters either.
He added that the defence be provided an update on whether Ms O'Brien will appear for the case.
"Ms O'Brien is the subject of other investigations and ongoing Garda efforts have not located her at this time," Mr O'Doherty replied. He added that she is "not contactable".He said it was an unsatisfactory situation and advised that it would not be appropriate to proceed with listing the case for trial, where the men's pleas would be heard before a jury panel.Judge Eugene O'Kelly said that in the absence of the woman's participation, he would not proceed with bringing the men before a jury yet."I feel it would be inappropriate to list the matter for trial," he said.He listed the case for a next mention on April 26th.